The Hamilton School District is considering whether to borrow millions of dollars to upgrade its facilities. If all goes according to plan, the improvements could get underway this spring and wrap up by the fall of 2020.
Superintendent Joe Yurko said the district has been working on a large-scale facility improvement plan since 2014. He said the process has included public input sessions and meetings with community members.
“What we are attempting to do is not look at any [of our buildings] in a vacuum, but rather, take a district-wide look with some foresight and try to come up with plans that make sense,” said Yurko.
The top proposal to emerge from the planning process calls for extensive upgrades at Hamilton High School and Hamilton Elementary School. The work would include a new roof for each building, an upgrade of the HVAC system and the parking lot at the elementary, and a remodeling of the high school locker room/restrooms.
The district would also close its current junior high school, which was built more than 90 years ago, and replace it with an addition to the elementary school, adding 7th and 8th grade students to the K-6 building.
“[The junior high] building was cutting edge in 1927,” said Yurko. “There’s been a lot that has changed between then and now in how we educate kids. We really want to create an environment that’s more tailored to students and how they learn. Shared spaces, flexible spaces, well-lit spaces, spaces that really cater to the needs of the child.”
Yurko said the district would be open to allowing someone to try saving the junior high building, in particular the large auditorium inside.
The estimated cost for the improvement plan is about $8 million, with more than 2/3 of that amount being spent at the elementary school. The district would have to borrow the money. Yurko said if the district sells health/life safety bonds, a public vote is not required. He said the state has come in and reviewed the district’s facilities, adding that he’s confident the state will sign off on the use of the health/life safety bonds for the project.
There have been concerns raised about the project during several public meetings. Among them is how the plan to borrow money will affect local property taxes.
Yurko said the initial estimates are that the district’s property tax rate would increase by $0.60/$100 of assessed value if the district borrows the entire $8 million over 20 years. He said the owner of a $100,000 home would pay roughly $200/year more in property taxes to the district.
Figures provided by the district show that Hamilton’s current tax rate of $4.45 is ranked 7th of 9 neighboring districts. The increase would move Hamilton to 4th.
Yurko said the district has looked into rehabbing the junior high school building but that would cost an estimated $1 million more than constructing the addition to the elementary school.
Yurko said the school board’s next possible actions regarding the plan are to authorize the selling of the bonds and to put the projects out for bid. He said the district would not sell the bonds until it is happy with the cost estimates for the project.
“We are not in the revenue business,” said Yurko. “So when it comes time to do capital projects, we don’t have those things just sitting on the shelves ready to go. We have to take a detailed look at how best to use the resources we have available to us.”