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Norton hopes to build new high school with bond issue funds

10/3/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

NORTON — Norton City Schools officials said the time has come for implementing a plan to better the district’s facilities for its students.

Three years after the last attempt to get voters to support a bond issue to support a construction program, the district is hoping voters in the Nov. 5 General Election will support Issue No. 42, a 3.89-mill bond issue that would allow the district to build a new high school and close two of its oldest buildings.

The bond issue would cost the owner of property valued at $100,000 about $136 a year. The property tax would be paid for 36 years, according to Superintendent David Dunn.

He added the district has been looking at new facilities and property for about 20 years. Efforts intensified four years ago when the district had the opportunity to use funds from the state tobacco settlement through the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC). But in three attempts over 12 months, voters failed to support a bond issue for the district’s share of the proposed project.

“We continue to have the same issues we had then with the age of the buildings and with potential problems that crop up from time to time and with the widening of South Cleveland-Massillon Road impacting Cornerstone Elementary,” Dunn said.

In 2012, the OSFC was consolidated with the State Architect’s Office to create the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) and charged with oversight of the school construction projects. Dunn said in the meantime, Norton reapplied to the program and was accepted.

This time around, there are some changes that Dunn said he believes make the proposed project an even better one for residents and students.

“The big issue last time was the potential location,” Dunn said. “There was strong sentiment to keep any facilities centralized here as a focal point for Norton. We ended up not purchasing property at Medina Line and Greenwich roads, and we just expanded here. We have secured that property and we have the space.”

The district purchased with money it had saved about 35 acres near the district’s baseball field, Dunn said.

The other difference this time is that the district is slated to receive 51 percent of funds for the project from the OFCC. Previously, the district stood to receive 38 percent of the funding from the state.

“With the increase in percentage from the OFCC, it seems like an opportune time to see what we can do with the bond issue,” Dunn said.

The plan as currently proposed is to build a new high school on the newly acquired property and then demolish Cornerstone, which was built in 1915, and Grill Elementary, which was built in 1929. The current high school, built in 1954, would then be used for the middle school, and the current middle school, built in 1966, would be used as an elementary school for first through fourth grades. The Norton Primary Elementary School building, built in 1956, would be the site for prekindergarten and kindergarten classes.

The total cost for the project is about $32 million, with the bond issue raising $15.8 million and the OFCC contributing $16.3 million.

The project also would include locally funded initiatives (LFIs), which are items not covered by the state money. In Norton, Dunn said LFIs planned are an auditorium at the high school, a new competitive stadium with a track and practice fields for sports and band.

“The biggest thing for me as superintendent is we owe it to our students to put them in situations to prepare them to compete with students from every other district, not only in colleges and universities, but in the job market,” Dunn said. “We need the upgrade to provide a greater capacity for us to do that.”

Dunn said the length of time for the bond issue is long but added that having that length of time allows the bond to be spread out over more years and reduces the annual payments from property owners.

“It is a long time, but when you take a look at the facilities we have and how long they’ve been here, 36 years is not a long time in terms of the life of a school building,” he said.

An effort headed up by Pat Santelli and Dennis Oswald is underway to promote the bond issue to voters, Dunn said. Organizers plan a community meeting on the bond issue Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at Norton High School, 4108 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road.

Should the issue not pass in November, Dunn said the district would have time to try again in the next year and still use the state funds for a project.

“What we would have to do is sit back and discuss this with the board,” he said. “Obviously, that will not change the fact that we need new facilities.”

For more information, search for Norton City Schools: Excellence Worth Keeping — A Community Commitment on Facebook.

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