Top story 5: Warren looks to the future after levy approval

A late spring election has created the promise of making 2018 a banner year in the Warren Local school district.

After six failed attempts at persuading voters to finance the rebuilding of the district’s schools, success finally materialized in May, when the electorate approved a bond measure that will give the district $62 million to rebuild its schools and launch a new era in education for its 2,000 students.

Before the end of 2017, the district settled on its leadership team for the project, hiring Fanning Howey as architects and design engineers, Barton Malow as construction management and Motz Engineering as its certification firm. The school board and administration had made tours of other schools in Ohio to get design and layout ideas, and public meetings had been held to get input from parents and members of the community.

In January, a “visioning” session will be held to start refining public ideas for what the new schools will look like and how they will function.

School board member Debbie West has been part of the process for 12 years. The difference this time, she said, was a good plan, presented well.

“We just shared the need for new buildings, but also got community support on efforts addressing education rather than just buildings,” she said. “We had a good plan that uses tax dollars wisely, consolidating everything on one campus.”

Previous efforts, she said, had including rebuilding elementary schools at their current locations, rebuilding the high school and different combinations of those ideas.

This year, several factors came together that helped the cause, she said.

“We were able to offer a good percentage of tax funding from the state, a good interest rate, there was an accumulation of different things, and this was the first time we tried to put it all on one campus. It was just a good plan,” West said.

The bond levy will apply to property taxes for 30 years, costing the owner of a $100,000 home in the district about $180 a year. The state is providing $38 million for the project, about 63 percent of the total.

West said the board recognized that it is a challenge — and should be — to persuade voters to dedicate money to such a project.

“It’s always difficult to pass a funding measure,” she said. “People work hard for their money, and giving more of it up in taxes is not typically something they want to do. They have to believe it will be worth it.”

Board members and administrators have been cautious about forecasting the timeline for construction, warning the community that many elements in the project need to be aligned before a schedule can be set.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, we’re going to take some time and do it right, and we have the right people to have a successful project,” West said. “I want to encourage people to attend the workshops and board meetings, and we are sharing up-to-date information on Facebook, in newsletters and on the web site.”

“Now, we’re in the design phase, taking input from the community, staff and students, visioning, getting ideas about what’s important to everyone,” she said.

West said she hopes to break ground sometime in 2018.

“That depends on how quickly we can get the buildings designed. There are a lot of things to be worked through,” she said.

The project calls for construction of a new elementary school and new high school on the lot currently occupied by the middle school and an additional structure called Building Six, both of which will undergo major expansions. The complex also will include new playing fields.

“I’m impressed with all the folks who are really committed to children in our community, wanting the best for them,” West said.

At a glance

Warren Local Schools bond issue

¯ Terms: New elementary and high schools, expanded middle school and repurposed existing building on one campus.

¯ Cost: $62 million, with local share of 37 percent.

¯ Vote: 52.55 percent in favor, 47.45 percent opposed.