By MAX FILBY
Van Buren School District residents voted down a $29.3 million bond issue on Tuesday that would have funded an expansion of the school’s campus.
The issue was defeated with 853 votes, or 62 percent, voting against it, according to the Hancock County Board of Elections. The bond issue had 527 voters, or 38 percent, in favor.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed with tonight’s outcome,” said Superintendent Tim Myers. “We need to do a better job at making sure the community understands our needs.”
The 37-year, 6.9-mill package would have paid for building 37 new classrooms and a new gym at the middle school and high school. The district is not eligible for state funding for the project because its property valuation is too high, considering its enrollment.
Myers said the proposal could reappear on the November ballot.
“I’d say there’s a strong chance, but ultimately that’ll be up to the board,” Myers said.
If it again fails to pass in November, the district could instead expand its parking lot onto two properties it recently purchased.
“As landlocked as we are, we could always use additional parking, too,” Myers said.
Since announcing the bond issue in January, the district has hosted a number of open houses and information sessions that “were not highly attended,” Myers said.
“There’s been a history of Van Buren residents not attending things like that,” Myers said. “If they’re not going to come in here, then we need to do better at reaching out to them.”
The project’s new classrooms and gym would have replaced an existing portion of the school that was built in 1918, making it 96 years old.
That part of the building is so old that it regularly has water main leaks, Myers said.
“It happens a lot just because of the years of deposits and sulfur buildup in the pipes,” Myers said.
The building’s chimney and floors are deteriorating, too. Older buildings also make it difficult to implement newer technology in classrooms, he said.
“We need to pass this levy or we’re going to have to keep pouring money into fixing these problems,” Myers said before the election.
The project also would have included improvements to the heating and air conditioning systems in both of Van Buren’s schools.