David Lias

David Lias

In April of 1999, Vermillion School District residents, by a vote of nearly 70 percent, approved a resolution to issue $3.2 million in general obligation bonds to fund an addition to Vermillion High School. Those funds were combined with $2.1 million in capital outlay certificates and the result was the addition of a commons and a gym and the Thomas H. Craig Center for Performing Arts that all seem irreplaceable today.

In 2007, after several years’ worth of discussion and meetings and one idea that failed at a public vote, the community of Vermillion came together and agreed it was time to construct a new 31,000 square foot city hall. Financing this new construction was $1.7 million of second penny sales tax revenue that were in a reserve fund, and the dedication of future second penny sales tax revenues to provide the income stream to pay for a bond resolution to make the new building possible.

In November 2014, Vermillion voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot issue calling for the issuance of $3.1 million in bonds to help finance improvements to Prentis Park, including the replacement of its aging, leaky pool.

Today, our community enjoys the new amenity that the voters’ decision – and the smoothing over of a bit of challenges, has brought us – the Prentis Plunge aquatic park.

The city had originally planned to begin construction of the new facility late in the summer of 2015. Those plans had to be put on hold, however, when citizens challenged and put to a public vote one of the methods enacted by the Vermillion City Council to help pay for the bond.

Funding sources to pay for the improvements include $1 million from the city's general fund reserve, $1 million from the city's second penny (sales tax) fund reserve, $3.1 million from the bond issue, and $250,000 from grants and fundraising.

The estimated cost of the annual debt service on the general obligation bonds for the park improvements was $222,000. The city proposed enacting a 5 percent malt beverage markup, which is estimated to generate enough revenue annually in Vermillion to pay for approximately half of that amount.

That idea received resistance from bar owners and other malt beverage license holders in Vermillion. In March, the city council unanimously approved an ordinance enacting the 5 percent markup. Citizens challenged that decision; a special election was held and voters overwhelmingly agreed with the city in June 2015.

This Tuesday, citizens residing in the Vermillion School District will participate in a special election to approve or disapprove the Vermillion School Board’s decision to issue $26 million in bonds to finance the construction of a new elementary school. Should the bond be approved, the new school will be built west of the Vermillion Middle School on property the district already owns.

The new elementary school, should the bond be approved to allow it to be built, will replace the district’s Jolley and Austin elementary schools – structures of mid-1950s vintage that are struggling to provide students a 21st century education.

Vermillion citizens faced a somewhat similar quandary over six decades ago when deciding how to cope with their aging Jolley and Austin elementary schools. You see, our current elementary schools that bear those names aren’t the original Jolley and Austin schools.

Austin Elementary (West Side) School had been constructed on West Main Street in 1897, while Jolley Elementary (East Side) School was built on South University Street in 1902.

Additions to both schools were made in 1911.

By 1953, school officials were beginning to wonder if these two long-standing buildings would continue to meet the needs of the district as enrollment figures continued to rise.

That summer, the Vermillion Plain Talk reported that an investigative committee found the facilities of both schools to be inadequate, in part because there happened to be a baby boom going on and elementary enrollment trends were going up and up.

The committee recommended an entirely new Austin school be constructed, as well as a new classroom section at Jolley school that would be designed as the initial unit of a new building to be constructed later.

These additions would arrive just in time for the district, whose student numbers were increasing exponentially. September 1953 saw an increase of 78 elementary students alone. While overall district numbers for 1951 were 724, they had risen to 846 just two years later.

By the winter of 1953, plans for construction were finalized. The new Austin school (today’s present Austin) would consist of a kindergarten and 10 classrooms, as well as an auditorium to be used as a gymnasium, meeting room and cafeteria.

Jolley School would get a five-classroom addition.

Costs for Austin were estimated to be approximately $277,000. The entire project was estimated at $400,000.

Vermillion voters approved a $240,000 bond for the projects early in 1954.

While the Jolley addition was constructed next to the standing school, Austin found an entirely new location – at what was then Austin Park.

One could argue that school planners perhaps should have spent more back in the mid-1950s because the two new schools barely kept up with enrollment demands.

Work was completed on the projects by the time school started in 1955, but by that time, the school saw yet another record enrollment. Newspaper articles estimated 925 students total, as compared to the 846 students from two years previous.

At the time, the district employed 49 teachers and administrative staff, as well as five custodians.

Just three years later, both the Austin and Jolley schools were added to in order to accommodate even more students.

In August 1958, work was completed on three new Austin classrooms, and nine at Jolley.

There’s no baby boom serving as a compelling force behind the bond issue voters will decide on Tuesday, Oct. 5. There are a host of needs, however, that, as mentioned earlier, are becoming more and more difficult for educators to provide in buildings that were designed for students of the 1950s, not students of today.

Hopefully, as you read this, you’ll be reminded of the times fellow citizens or maybe you, yourself, answered the call when it became clear that your community needed help. You, or someone you know, decided to vote yes back in 1954 when Vermillion needed two new elementary schools.

You, or someone you know, voted yes to make the wonderful expansions to Vermillion High School possible. They have been an invaluable part of our community for over two decades now.

You, or someone you know, helped this community unite around a plan that made construction of our city hall possible. You, or someone you know, gave overwhelming support to issuing bonds to fund part of Prentis Plunge and other park improvements and later approved a malt beverage tax to help finance the rest of the plan.

The plan for a new elementary school in Vermillion has been talked about for years now. Its plans have been refined over time into what has been proposed.

It’s possible, however, for needs to go unrecognized. It’s easy to look at something like this with blinders on, no matter how well planned it may be, if the only thought one focuses on is the small bump in property taxes that will occur should Tuesday’s bond be approved.

If that’s the case, as you ponder your future property tax bills, also think about the cost of operating two older buildings instead of a single, new efficient one. Think about transporting kids (and teachers) to two sites instead of one. You have to admit, that those factors alone make sense.

But most of all, think about the decision that voters in the 1950s made and the impact that decision had on the lives of generations of our community. Think about the decisions that were made in 1999 and in 2007 and in 2014 and 2015 that transformed Vermillion in such positive ways.

Think about how so many people who call Vermillion home have stepped up time and again, when needed, as you enter the voting booth on Tuesday, Oct. 5.

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