After years of planning, months of meetings and countless hours of door-to-door canvassing for voters to approve construction of a middle school, Washington voters said “no.”
But, the “no” vote does not mean the project won’t happen.
Tuesday’s 2,726 “no” votes forestall the preliminary work and construction, but does not kill the project.
“By law the project can’t appear on a ballot for two years,” said Washington Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Roach.
An exception would be made if a project were to have a dramatic shift; no such shift will be made. He explained no dramatic shift would be made because the project was the result of extensive planning that incorporated needs and ideas from local residents as well as project architects and engineers.
“This is a well thought-through approach to meeting the educational needs of the school system,” Roach said.
While the superintendent is disappointed with the result, he and other school officials are not ready to give up meeting the educational needs of Washington students.
The project was considered by some to be too grand and would have resulted in an undue tax burden. The tax burden was slated to be $0.4829 per $100 of assessed valuation.
While opponents of the referendum cite the tax increase as cumbersome, proponents claim delays of approving the project only will increase the project costs.
“This would have been the absolute best time to commence with the project as interest rates are down,” said Roach. He estimated project cost (based on the formula used by architects) will increase by as much as 5% a year.
“There was an incredible amount of planning and listening that occurred,” Roach noted.
He added that the project became slightly broader as a result of the mandatory tax hearings, during which members of the community helped to fashion the project, designed to meet the immediate and future school corporation needs.
The project included adequate learning spaces for 240 students for each grade 5 through 8 (which allows for approximate growth of 20%); 960 total student population; gymnasium with 1,200 Seats; 5/6 and 7/8 separate cafeterias; field house with three basketball courts, and high school varsity football field and track facility.
Approval of the project, according to Roach, would have positioned educators to meet the needs of the students.
“Educational setting is different now than was the case a few years ago as more space is needed to afford teachers the opportunity to challenge students and allow students to accept the challenges by way of hands-on learning and developing concepts while working in group settings,” Roach said. He observed gone are the days when students sat in desks in rows.
Also different is the needed space for students enrolled in special programs such as Special Education and English as a Second Language.
“Washington is representative of the United States in that immigration is happening here,” Roach noted, “and to meet the needs we need more room.”
Additional space is needed now as some elementary students meet in temporary housing; that housing is not adequate to accommodate any growth in numbers.
Had the measure been approved, a few more meetings would have been conducted with parties necessary to initiate the work package relative to specifics so bids could have been let. Initial indications are that the bid package would have been ready during the spring/summer of 2020, while construction would have started soon thereafter and the project would have been completed 18 months after ground was broken.