Van Buren trying again for school work

VAN BUREN — Come November, Van Buren School District residents will have a chance to show support or vote down a $28.7 million bond issue for school improvements.
The Van Buren school board on Thursday night approved sending the 7-mill, 30-year tax to the Hancock County Board of Elections.
“Now we know what direction we’re going in and we can start to educate voters and make sure the public knows about it,” Superintendent Tim Myers said.
The board will have another special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the district’s community room to start figuring out the campaign for the bond issue. The public has been invited to participate in the meeting.
Five people attended Thursday’s board meeting and only one spoke against putting the $28.7 million bond issue on the November ballot.
If passed, the tax would fund the construction of 34 new classrooms, a new gym, replacement of heating and cooling systems, and relocation of the district’s bus garage to another site.
Classrooms would be larger than current ones to allow for more flexibility and the possibility of increased student enrollment, Myers said.
“We’re building for growth,” Myers said.
The district is not eligible for state assistance with the project.
Bob Maas, a school board member in the 1970s, on Thursday encouraged the district to go in a different direction. Maas said the board should prioritize the district’s needs and break up the tax proposal into three pieces.
Maas suggested that district residents cannot afford the whole package at once.
But the board chose to go ahead with its previously proposed bond issue, to take advantage of low interest rates and to avoid rising construction costs and “levy fatigue” among voters.
“How are (voters) going to react when the board is coming back three times in 15 years?” board member Edd Van Horn said of Maas’ proposal.
The district’s $28.7 million bond issue is a slightly smaller version of a $29.3 million proposal that voters turned down in May with 853 votes, or 62 percent, against it, according to the Hancock County Board of Elections. That bond issue had 527 voters in favor.
School board members said the dollar amount and the length of the previous bond issue, 37 years, may have kept residents from voting for it, leading the board to seek about $600,000 less and shorten the bond issue length by seven years.
Before deciding to place the $28.7 million tax on the ballot Thursday, the school board also considered the ideas of relocating the entire campus, or renovating existing structures. The cost to build a completely new campus would be close to $40 million, and the cost to renovate old portions of the current school would be about $20 million, school officials said.
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