Vermillion School District voters agreed at the ballot box Tuesday that it is time to construct a new elementary school to replace the district’s two aging buildings for grade school students.
The number of “yes” votes totaled 902 compared to 304 “no” votes when the ballots were tallied shortly after polls closed at the National Guard Armory. A 60% margin is needed for a successful bond election and 74.79% of Tuesday’s voters agreed with the Vermillion School Board that it is time to issue $26 million in general obligation bonds to finance the construction of a new elementary school.
What to do regarding the district’s elementary school situation has been a topic of the school board for years. It has been occupied in recent years with planning meetings and this spring decided the best option would be to ask the public to finance a new school building that would house all elementary grades.
Jolley and Austin elementary schools, both constructed in the mid-1950s, are not keeping pace with modern education trends, the board determined, and an investment of at least $6 million to $8 million would be needed now to give each building an estimated 10 more years of life.
Former school board member Tim Schwasinger noted at a recent public meeting that following that 10-year period, the school district would once again be faced with only one alternative – replacing both elementary schools – only the cost likely would have risen to $35 million or $40 million by then.
School Board President Doug Peterson said the election results reflects the community’s positive attitude concerning education.
“I’m pleased obviously, and I think it really says a lot about what the community thinks about the teachers and the job they do,” he said, “and the work that everyone in the district has done not just for the past few years but for the past 50 years.
“They rewarded that by saying, ‘yes, we want to make sure the future of Vermillion Schools is in a state-of-the-art facility.’ Now we move to the next stage, which is getting it planned and built.”
“We’re elated of course; we want to thank all of the people who came out and supported us for this bond election and we want to thank all of the people who helped make it possible,” Superintendent Damon Alvey said. “Without all of those committee members and the school board and administrators and teachers and classified folks who put this together, we wouldn’t have been able to put such a good message out to people.
“I think that message was resonating. We were transparent and we were trying to be as up front about everything as possible,” he said. “We got our message out and were positive about it and obviously the people supported it and so we’re super excited.”
Alvey said he and Business Manager Kevin Kocer had visited earlier this week with the financial experts that would assist the school district, should the bond issue pass.
“They’re prepared for our call tomorrow morning,” the superintendent said. “We have a 9:30 a.m. meeting with the architect already in the works. We have plans to hit the ground running … tomorrow will be the beginning of the real hard work. We want to make sure that two years from now, we have a great school that everybody is proud of and had a chance to be a part of.”
The Vermillion School District is divided into four voting wards. Total voter turnout was slim, but the number of affirmative votes cast in each ward was overwhelmingly in support of the bond issue.
In the Northwest Ward, 170 people voted yes and 75 voted no. The Southeast Ward of the school district drew the highest voter turnout Tuesday of 25.7 percent. Southeast ward voters cast 414 yes votes and 130 no votes.
Citizens of the Central/Northeast Ward who participated in Tuesday’s election marked “yes” on 179 ballots and “no” on 46. In the Rural/Union County Ward, 139 people voted yes and 53 voted no.
Of the school district’s 7,562 active voters, 1,206 cast ballots Tuesday. That’s a voter turnout of 15.95%.
Both Peterson and Alvey said it will be exciting and rewarding for the school district to work on a new school from the ground up rather than face the challenges of squeezing additional life out of aging buildings.
“The opportunity that this presents for our kids and for our community is pretty outstanding,” Alvey said. “To be able to replicate what other schools have done before us, to think outside the box, to create those relationships and partnerships with USD and Head Start and some of the things we’ve talked about in the past year – to now be able to actually put those things in place is going to be really exciting.
“I know our staff have talked about the opportunities for space, to be able to try new things and have those opportunities … they’re excited about that, and I think it’s just going to open doors for our staff,” the superintendent said. “We’re usually trying to find ways to make do with what we have, but the opportunity to do this is going to be really exciting.”
“Now you can really design for exactly what the students and the classroom teachers need and you’re not constrained by where the ceiling is or where the walls are,” Peterson said. “It will be a school that will be brand new in 2025 or 2026 and it will be state-of-the-art.”
The Vermillion School District’s educators and its citizens will play an important role, through their feedback, in developing the new school, he said.
“I think we’ve always tried to reach out, even in this early process, to get feedback from the public, from the teachers and now it will go into high gear and we will go through the entire process of bidding and hiring contractors,” Peterson said.
The recent renovation of Vermillion High School and the district’s latest project – the addition of administrative offices to the high school – have given school board members and administrators important lessons, he said, on what to expect next as the process of constructing the new school gets underway.
“I think we’re really in a good place for the future,” Peterson said.