By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
Mt. Vernon Township High School superintendent Mike Smith is adamant that taxpayers will not be saddled with additional costs associated with the construction of a new high school.
"Voters approved $19.8 million in referendum approved bonds. We won't be coming back to the voters for any additional money," Smith said. "If we're going to build a school that's over $64 or $65 million, we must generate those funds to make up the difference. No matter what this thing costs, the $19.8 million is all the taxpayers will be responsible for. We know we can generate more than $19.8 million in local revenue."
The state has promised to give the local district up to $48 million, based on funding 72 percent of the project. "It's not $48 million if we don't generate $24 million," Smith said. "It's a 2 to 1 match. It will cost 33 percent more than the state giving us 66 percent. As much as I can raise here locally to add to the referendum to get me to the magic number will get us to the maximum. I don't want to leave any state dollars on the table, so I'm wanting to spec 72 percent. We're not going to do anything out of our budget or out of the parameters that we can afford to build."
Smith said the high school has additional revenue sources, including reserve funds, anonymous donors, or individuals and organizations that have special interests.
"We know that we can generate more than $19.8 million, although we don't know what the gap will be between $19.8 million and $24 million (based on the $64 million estimate) will be. Ultimately, that will determine the scope of the project," Smith said.
"We won't know the cost of the project until we bid it in October. Anything up to that point is simply an estimate and everything is dictated by the market, the economy and the favorability of raw materials, steel, etc. We will build the best school we can afford to build."
Smith indicated that school officials have been dealing with the old school versus new school issue for several years.
"When I was employed in 2009, I had several goals. One of them was to look at the financial situation to make sure we were financially solvent, student performance, and facilities. Part of that charge was an assessment of our current facilities and what impact and need based on research in determining what gap was created in where we were at financially and with student performance, where we were currently and where we wanted to go and to what degree were the facilities part of the solution or part of the issue," Smith explained.
That led to a community feasibility, and eventually, a site selection committee.
"We conducted an extensive feasibility study that looked at the existing campus. We actually came up with seven options — six options were on this particular site and one option was a new school at a new location. One option was a new school at this location. At the end of the four-month study, in looking at curricular needs and based on state funding, at the end of the day, the one that made the best sense, was a new school at a new location," he said.
Rehabilitation of the existing campus would have cost approximately $80,000, Smith said.
Mt. Vernon Township High School was on the 2002 Capital Development Board list for a new school, but a voter referendum failed.
"Had that referendum been successful, the funding came through in 2010 for the 2002 list so we would be sitting in a new high school right now had that referendum been successful. When the state is going down the list and you don't have your local money, they skip over you, and goes to next year's list, and that's how we ended up on the 2003 construction list," Smith said.
Based on the school's new needs and the state's ability to fund new school construction, the issue was placed on a referendum in 2011 and approved by 60 percent of the voters. Funding for the project was approved by the state in February of the following year.
School officials then began their search for a new site, and the location at the intersection of Ambassador Road and Wells Bypass was approved and purchased.
"The need has existed for a number of years and has been validated by more than one study, and weighing all the factors, we spent most of our time talking about this existing site and trying to make it work. Based on how the state was funding and where we needed to go and the layout of education being different than it was in 1905, it didn't make sense," Smith said.
Smith said school officials will have a better handle on the total project cost when the bidding process begins.
"If the bids are lower or at the current market, we'll probably be okay. If it's higher we may have trouble. It's a big roll of the dice. It comes down to what is the minimum and maximum costs and then we're going to try to get the public as much for their dollar in between as we can afford," Smith said.