Staff Writer

By a 2-1 margin, voters on Tuesday approved a major construction and renovation project for Liberty-Benton Local Schools.

The district asked for a 35-year, 7.3-mill bond issue to build a new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade building and renovate the high school, and voters said yes by 1,311 votes (66.82 percent) to 651 (33.18 percent).

The levy passage was a “great day for our students, staff and the entire school community,” Superintendent Mark Kowalski said.

Levy revenue will fund Liberty-Benton’s $25,594,646 share of the $45,576,101 project, with the state covering the rest.

Of the 7.3 mills, 6.8 mills are for construction and a half-mill is for continuing maintenance.

Kowalski gave “a huge thank you to our L-B community. A lot of people put a lot of time and effort into this. It’s been a long time coming for our school community.”

Voters had rejected two proposals in 2008, and another in 2013.

This was the first attempt to raise construction and renovation funds under Kowalski, who became superintendent in 2017.

“We’ve tried to engage our community, be transparent with our community through community meetings, surveys, and our Community Advisory Team,” Kowalski said Tuesday night.

The district presented the community with construction and renovation options in November. Through surveys, the community showed its preference for the plan that the district is proceeding with. The Community Advisory Team also recommended that plan to the school board.

The new building, plus an auditorium/performing arts space, will be built at the high school campus. The high school will be improved based on recommendations from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.

The oldest part of the current elementary/middle school building is nearly 100 years old, and is no longer big enough for all of its students. The building is supplemented by 10 modular units, the oldest two of which date to 1986.

On Tuesday night, it was time to “sit back and take a deep breath” before the work ahead, Kowalski said.

With local funding secured, the state will release its share in July, he said.

The state is paying for 57 percent of much of the project, though some parts, such as the auditorium, must be fully funded by Liberty-Benton.

The tax will cost $238 annually for a school district resident with a $100,000 home. Collection starts in January 2020.

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

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