Voters in Batavia School District 101 went to the polls Tuesday to vote on a $140 million bond issue to replace H.C. Storm Elementary and Louise White Elementary with new school buildings plus make other district-wide improvements including safety and security upgrades.
Unofficial final results Tuesday night, with all precincts reporting, had 49.7% voting against the bond issue and 48.5% for the measure.
The timing of the referendum was “ideal” to take care of the district’s schools because the district’s bond debt will expire in two years, district officials had said going into Tuesday night’s election.
“Batavia School District placed a referendum question on the ballot after a years-long process of assessing the facilities and engaging the community. We selected a question that we believed represented the will of the community,” Batavia School District 101 Superintendent Lisa Hichens said in an email response to The Beacon-News.
“The numbers are very close at this time. Accordingly, we will await final results, analyze the outcome and determine next steps,” she said. “The facility needs are clear, present and growing, so we need to work with the community to establish a funding plan.”
District offIcials had said that if voters approved the referendum question, the Board of Education would be able to issue school building bonds that would coincide with the retirement of existing debt and generate funding for capital improvements without increasing the current bond and interest property tax levy.
Officials said the money that would be generated from the proposed bond issue is needed to maintain quality schools that meet evolving needs in teaching and learning. Changes would include safety and security upgrades and replacing H.S. Storm and Louise White elementary schools with new facilities on the same sites.
Renovating the H.S. Storm and Louise White schoool buildings would not be cost-effective, officials said. There are mounting structural and functional issues at the facilities that have been determined to be more costly to tackle than to replace the buildings.
In addition, it would take years to renovate the facilities, district officials said.
The district said, if the bond issue was approved, it would build the two new elementary schools on the current campus sites at an estimated $35 million each and demolish the old schools.
“We heard during our community engagement sessions and in the community-wide survey that people believe schools are an investment in our community, but they want us to live within our means. We thought the question was a good compromise – we would be able to address our facility challenges without increasing our bond and interest tax levy,” Hichens said.
“The school district is fortunate to have a supportive community. Despite the outcome of this vote, we know the support for our schools is still strong. The students will continue to be served by a staff that is devoted to them, and we will work on a new plan to ensure the facilities accommodate their learning,” she said.
Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.