Gavin District 37 returns to voters seeking funding for school improvements

For the second time in eight months, Gavin Elementary District 37 is asking voters to approve a funding plan for life-safety repairs and improvements at its two school buildings in Ingleside.

Fresh off a 140-vote defeat of a March referendum attempt, District 37 officials said they've reached out to taxpayers and used the feedback to design the Nov. 6 ballot proposal that's more in line with what residents want.

"Our community told us they felt more comfortable with a one-time ask," Superintendent Julie Brua said. "So, that is what we put on the ballot. We focused on our list of life-safety needs that were identified in our audit."

District 37 is seeking approval of a $6 million building bond referendum to fund life-safety improvements at Gavin South Middle School on Route 134 and Gavin Central Elementary School on North Ridge Road over 20 years.

The work would include repairing or replacing aging roofs, asphalt parking lots, a boiler, chillers, improving science labs and extending air conditioning.

District 37 Business Manager Mark Lindem said the equipment and facilities are at the end of their useful lives, and need to be repaired or replaced. For example, Lindem said the Gavin Central roof is 20 years old and starting to leak. At Gavin South, the backup boiler is more than 40 years old and doesn't work.

Securing building entrances at both schools is also on the project list.

"We are looking to add a secure vestibule at South because we don't have one, then improve the quality of the ballistic glass at Central," he said. "The goal will be to slow people down for as long as we can until emergency services can react."

The project work would bring the district in line with school code regarding the life-safety needs, he said.

"But, if the referendum fails, with the magnitude of the things we are talking about, we would fall behind," Lindem added.

That means the district would need to find ways to pay for the most critical needs from the annual budget, and could result in larger class sizes, a reduction in programs, fewer bus drivers, or a smaller secretarial staff, officials said.

School officials said this referendum comes as a construction bond sale that funded Gavin Central 20 years ago expires in December. Voters will have to decide what to do with the potential savings.

If the referendum fails, the owner of a house valued at $200,000 would see their property tax bill drop $186 in the first year. If it is approved, the owner of the same house would see their bill fall about $30 in the first year, with the difference paying for the building projects, officials said.

District 37 faced the same life-safety issues in March but voters rejected the ballot request to establish a "debt service extension base" of $500,000 annually, enabling the district to raise $5.96 million to fund repairs. "No" votes totaled 694, compared to 554 "yes" votes.

Had it been approved, it would have allowed the district to sell bonds for improvements at any time without voter approval. However, the district would have a limited amount of principal and interest it could have levied against taxpayers to repay those bonds.

Chesney Shores resident Alex Politanski, a certified public accountant, was one of the referendum's most vocal opponents. He argued District 37 wanted to open a "revolving line of credit" that would have put it forever in debt.

Politanski has not spoken out about on the November referendum, and has not returned calls seeking comment.

One resident has questioned on Facebook whether approving a building bond referendum will boost property values and expressed concerns about underperforming test scores.

Brua said District 37 held three community forums before the March referendum and two more since. District officials also have met with about a dozen smaller community groups to discuss the Nov. 6 referendum, she added.

Officials used the feedback to design the ballot request and what it would fund, Brua said. For example, planned work on the Gavin Central roof was changed and the Gavin South gym floor was removed from the list after speaking with community members.

"We decided to try and get one more sanding out of it (the Gavin South gym floor), which we will be paying for ourselves," she said. "We also made the wording on the referendum more specific, and consulted with architects on the plans for the changes we need."

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  Gavin Elementary District 37 is seeking approval of a $6 million building bond referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. The work would include repairing or replacing aging roofs, asphalt parking lots, a boiler, chillers, improving science labs, extending air conditioning and securing building entrances. Steve Lundy/
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