Cramped classrooms. Bad roofs. Moody heaters.
Rusted pipes, worn-out air conditioners, and rain water running through walls.
If you’ve been inside either Powers or Harris elementary schools lately, you know what problems Amherst students live with every weekday.
Fixing everything to the state’s expectations would cost more than $21 million. Issue 21 on the Nov. 8 ballot asks voters to skip costly repairs and build a new school for prekindergarten through third grade on South Lake Street.
The project would cost an estimated $32 million but the Ohio School Construction Commission would pick up $14.2 million of that tab (about 45 percent of the price tag).
The Issue 21 campaign has said passage won’t raise taxes, which is partly true. Amherst voters agreed years ago to fund construction of Amherst Junior High School via a 1.91-mill bond issue, which is set to expire in 2029. If voters agree, the tax will remain on the books another 12 years through 2041.
That means you’ll continue paying the same $5.57 per month for every $100,000 worth of property you own. You’ll just pay it longer.
So on a $150,000 home you’d pay another $1,204 over the extra dozen years ($8.36 per month), or on a $200,000 home you’d pay another $1,604 during that extended period ($11.14 per month). Keep in mind your rate depends on your property’s valuation.
For its part, the Amherst board of education has already refinanced its debt from AJHS construction to lower its month-to-month costs.
Between refinancing and extending the bond issue, local residents would get a brand new school without the huge tax hikes that usually accompany construction. In fact, the district contends that building a new school will actually stave off future requests for more money by helping them cut costs now.
While enrollment has been steadily shrinking for more than a decade, the Amherst Schools’ expenses have been growing. Educators say they can save $500,000 per year with a new building through heat, power, and water efficiency as well as sharing teachers — plus, it’s always cheaper to run one cafeteria instead of two.
A new school has been needed a long time, according to Amherst superintendent Steven Sayers. Amherst had looked at building six years ago but couldn’t afford it because the district was already in a desperate situation with its operating cash flow.
Now that the district has stabilized its financial picture, it can afford to pursue a new elementary school, he said.
The plan is to demolish the Harris, Powers, and Shupe Schools and close the board of education office on Forest Street.
New construction would go where Harris stands today on South Lake Street and the project would include upgrades to heating and cooling systems at Nord Middle and Steele High schools.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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