Staff Writer

Liberty-Benton Local Schools is seeking funding on the May ballot for construction of a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building, and renovations to the high school.

An auditorium/performing arts space would also be built as part of the $45,576,101 project.

Liberty-Benton would raise its share, $25,594,646, with a 35-year, 7.3-mill bond issue. Of that, 6.8 mills would be for construction and a half-mill would be for continuing maintenance.

This would cost $238 annually for a school district resident with a $100,000 home.

Collection would start in January 2020.

The existing bond issue for construction of the high school, which is now collected at 1.8 mills, will expire by then, so the increase above what homeowners currently pay would be $192.96 per $100,000.

The state is offering to pay for 57 percent of much of the project, though some parts, like the auditorium, must be fully funded by Liberty-Benton.

The district appreciates the efforts made over the years to maintain the current elementary/middle school, but “it’s served its purpose,” Superintendent Mark Kowalski said.

The original part of that building is nearly 100 years old, and the school hasn’t been able to house all of its students for decades.

Fifth- and sixth-grade students learn in 10 modular units, the oldest two of which date to 1986. Six more were added in 2001, and the last two were new in 2016, Kowalski said.

The school’s classrooms are undersized, and there should be more restroom facilities for the number of students the building has, Kowalski said.

There are accessibility issues for people with disabilities, and there are leaks in the roof, he said.

In district surveys, respondents mentioned problems with parking and traffic logistics at the elementary/middle school.

If the tax issue passes, the high school would be improved based on what the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission recommended. That includes upgrades to the roof, lighting and mechanical systems, along with outdoor site improvements like new concrete.

The “physical structure” of the high school would not change, Kowalski said.

In the past 11 years, Liberty-Benton has made three other attempts at levies to fund school construction.

Voters rejected two proposals in 2008.

In 2013, they said no to a 6.5-mill tax package that would have generated $19.7 million toward building a new K-8 school, with the state paying for the rest of the $31.9 million project.

“We’d like to feel that we engaged the community and involved them in the decision” this time, Kowalski said.

Kowalski became superintendent in 2017, and this is the district’s first attempt in that time at a levy for construction and renovation.

Through a series of community meetings and surveys, the public learned about several construction and renovation options, and showed its preference for the plan that the district is proceeding with.

Rubright: 419-427-8417
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