School officials trim building referendum cost to $39.9 million, must make decision on outdoor upgrades
With the cost of the Grafton School District’s building renovation referendum plan now pared to $39.9 million, the question for the School Board next week is whether to add about $1 million in outdoor athletic facility improvements to its initiative before sending it to voters in April.
“To get our plan to $39.9 million feels like we’ve listened to the public and have not compromised our project,” Supt. Jeff Nelson said this week. “The remaining question for the board is the athletic facility improvements.”
That question will be answered when the board meets Monday, Jan. 23, one day ahead of the deadline to finalize the wording of the referendum question to be included on the April ballot.
School officials, who with the Facilities Advisory Committee have worked to cut $7.8 million from the $47.7 million referendum rejected by voters last year, are committed to making what they say are necessary athletic field improvements.
The concern, however, is that including the plan to upgrade the high school soccer field and move the varsity softball and baseball diamonds to the high school could undermine public support for building renovations, which include razing Grafton Elementary School, renovating and expanding Kennedy and Woodview elementary schools and upgrading John Long Middle School. The demolition of Grafton Elementary School would clear the way for the expansion of the high school and renovation of the district office.
“I’ve had a couple residents say that the referendum needs to be focused on academics, not athletics,” Nelson said.
But school officials say the athletic facilities cannot be ignored.
“The board realizes that this is a safety issue that needs to be dealt with one way or another,” Nelson said.
Adding the athletic field upgrades to the referendum would bring the total cost to about $41 million.
Alternatives include tapping the district’s savings, or fund balance, to pay for athletic field improvements or borrowing separately for them under the district’s levy limit, which would not require voter approval. Nelson said the board could opt to do a combination of both.
Although the district has enough money in its fund balance to cover the cost of the project, reducing the value of the fund could affect its credit rating, something it can ill afford if it is to borrow $39.9 million. A representative from Baird, the district’s financial advisor, will discuss the implications of tapping the fund balance with the board next week, Nelson said.
What is clear, he said, is that if athletic field improvements go to referendum, they will be included in the building renovation proposalon the ballot.
“This will be a one-question referendum,” Nelson said.
Last year’s referendum included two questions, and voters rejected both a $47.7 million building upgrade plan and a $1.8 million proposal to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas.
The finalization of the referendum next week will be the culmination of months of work to pare the cost of the district’s initiative, much of which was done by the 31-member Facilities Advisory Committee.
Last month, after holding eight meetings and two community listening sessions, the committee recommended a $41.24 million building improvement plan. School officials have since pared that figure to $39.9.
The committee also urged the board to consider funding for the outdoor athletic facilities.