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The Journal Gazette

Monday, August 28, 2017 1:00 am

Public gets chance to offer advice on SACS' future plans

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

Southwest Allen County Schools is recommending a minimum $40 million in infrastructure improvements, $15 million of which is at Homestead High School:

• $26 million – HVAC

• $6.5 million – roof

• $2.4 million – building repairs

• $1.25 million – roads, parking and sidewalks

• $750,000 – grounds

• $600,000 – instructional equipment

• $450,000 – carpet/flooring

• $425,000 – fire safety

• $400,000 – auditorium drapery

• $350,000 – pool improvements

• $250,000 – new storage

• $175,000 – transportation

• $175,000 – other equipment

• $150,000 – bleacher repairs

• $125,000 – fencing

The future of Homestead High School – whether it should be renovated or rebuilt – was debated Sunday in small-group discussions intended to help the school board make a decision that could increase homeowners' property tax burden.

Southwest Allen County Schools is facing $40 million in infrastructure improvements – $15 million of which are at Homestead, where HVAC upgrades are needed.

The board is exploring additional work at Homestead to take advantage of the construction window created by the HVAC work. Getting ahead of growth and facility improvements are among the factors officials have considered.

To get public feedback on the $100 million and $180 million scenarios, SACS began a series of community dialogue last week. The final session is 7 p.m. tonight at Covington Elementary School, 2430 W. Hamilton Road South.

The input will be included in a report to the board, tentatively scheduled for delivery Sept. 19.

Superintendent Phil Downs, among other SACS officials, attended Sunday's session at Deer Ridge Elementary School but did not participate in discussions except to answer questions.

“This is your conversation,” he said to the crowd of about two dozen.

For $100 million, SACS could not only address the infrastructure needs but also expand Lafayette Meadows Elementary School, which is nearing capacity, and renovate Homestead.

Suggested renovations include mitigating congestion; refurbishing the library/media center; expanding/updating the cafeteria, music and performance facilities; creating a new TV/radio space; adding a school store; consolidating administrators and counselors in a common location; and adding gym space.

For $180 million, SACS could instead rebuild Homestead.

With two financing options for each scenario – with a referendum or without – and the fact that SACS will soon retire debt, the impact on taxpayers can range from nothing to hundreds of dollars depending on which of the four tax districts they live in.

No changes to property taxes are expected for the $100 million option if it is financed without a referendum.

With a referendum, it is likely that only Aboite Township's city residents would experience an increase. A $206 hike is estimated for a home with an assessed value of $177,900, the median value in SACS.

For the $180 million scenario, taxes would likely increase for Aboite Township, Lafayette Township and Zanesville residents – nearly $100 for a $177,900 home – if financed without a referendum. Aboite Township's city residents likely would not be impacted because properties in that district are generally at the tax cap.

A referendum, however, would increase property taxes for all under the new Homestead scenario. Aboite Township's city residents would experience the greatest increase – an estimated $349 for a $177,900 home; the other tax districts would pay an extra $96.

The public's recommendations were mixed Sunday. Two of the three groups supported building a new school without a referendum. Relying on voters approving a referendum is risky, they said, and a referendum for the $180 million option would create a significant long-term tax increase.

The other group didn't support any of the options, saying more information was needed.

Tricia Guadnola, a parent of three students in the school district, understands Homestead's existing limitations. It could benefit from a better layout and extra space, especially in the cafeteria, she said.

It is important to consider not only how the improvements will affect current students, she said, but also future generations.

“I don't want a Band-Aid put on the school,” she said.

asloboda@jg.net