Friday, July 19, 2019 Elyria 92°


Survey: Elyria voters still poised to say yes to schools' bond issue, but are more wary about athletic complex

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ELYRIA — Updated survey results show voters are still in favor of a bond issue to fund new schools and a new athletic complex.

But support has waned since a similar survey was conducted in November before the details of the master plan were ironed out.

It appears the athletic complex is a game changer for some.

District officials called for the survey after conversations with residents in more informal settings raised some concerns about how a locally funded athletic complex would affect the master plan and its staggering 67 percent funding contribution from the state. The survey’s goal was to gauge resident perspectives in the face of several changes while Elyria school board members prepare to finalize what residents will see in November.

The most noticeable takeaway is a majority of residents, some 54.2 percent, said they still would likely vote yes on a potential bond issue. Five months ago, support was about 61 percent.

Elyria Board President Mike Gebhardt said the survey results were very telling for him. Two weeks ago, he said he was unsure Elyria was ready for such a leap. Tuesday, he said he was all for the entire project.

“I knew it would be down from where it was before because so much has happened since November,” Gebhardt said. “But I’m encouraged to see it’s not way down as I suspected. I still think we have a great chance of getting it passed. As far as I’m concerned, we go forward with it and the stadium.”

District leaders have not officially put a price on the bond issue, but consistent estimates have the cost to taxpayers as about $12 a month for a home valued at $100,000.

“But the stadium is only $2 of that money,” Gebhardt said.

School board member Greg Elek said locally funded initiatives would round out the school project and bring the district facilities into the 21st century. He said he doesn’t anticipate board members will want to drop any of the initiatives including the athletic complex based on the survey results.

Breaking down the numbers

The breakdown for support includes 18.8 percent saying they would definitely vote for the issue and 35.4 percent saying they would probably vote for the issue.

However, 30.9 percent of respondents said they would probably or definitely vote against the issue and a little less than 15 percent of the survey participants were undecided. When the stadium component of the project is removed, support jumps 12 percentage points.

Burges & Burges Strategists designed the survey. AMM Political Strategies, a polling firm with a history of working with Elyria Schools, conducted the phone interviews over two days earlier this month. In all, the survey reached 600 registered voters in the district, twice what’s considered a valid sample size.

Burges’ Vanessa Tey Iosue said the survey results are not a straight call to scrap the athletic complex from the plan. What it did reveal is residents are more cautious and in need of more information.

“We now have more details about the master plan for people to process and think about and residents have others issues to consider,” Iosue said. “The city income tax passed. The city has a new stormwater utility fee and there is the conversation about dissolving the health district, which will cause an increase in homeowner property taxes. Residents are feeling the squeeze from three different areas and now the school district is back.”

Built in 1927, Ely Stadium for years has served as the big white elephant in the room when district officials talked about any kind of significant spending. The conversation in the community would always go back to the stadium. Even when former Elyria High School teacher Stacie Starr was gifted a new scoreboard for the stadium, some in the community hoped to springboard the gift into more improvements to the facility.

Now, it seems as if the district and the community are on the same page — ready to pull the trigger on a new place for Pioneer pride to call home.

Most survey respondents, about 57.7 percent, either “strongly agree” or “agree” with the decision to build a new stadium to replace the deteriorating Ely Stadium. This is down slightly since the November survey when 63 percent of those polled either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that the football stadium is outdated and needs to be replaced.

Back then, no one knew how much it would cost. Now, the estimate is about $9.3 million — all of which must be raised locally.

In the survey, respondents who were against or undecided on the full building plan were asked how they would vote on the bond issue if it did not include the stadium.

A sizeable percentage of those against or undecided on the building plan (26.2 percent) moved positive with the stadium not included. Slightly more than half still opposed the plan without the stadium, and 23 percent are undecided.

People in favor of the project were not asked about the sans stadium option.

“It was presumed if they are for the full project, they would be for a partial project,” Iosue said.

The idea of new of schools — the master plan calls for two new K-4 elementary buildings, two K-8 campus-style buildings and a third campus-style building that adds preschool — don’t appear to be the problem. Survey questions that tested participants’ familiarity with the master plan garnered positive feedback.

“When you start looking at the results from questions about why people will support the project, and see that (they support) giving the elementary and middle school kids the same opportunities as our high school students (it) tells me the community is ready to move forward,” Elek said. “Residents are thinking about the future of the district and want equal opportunities for all of our students.

“This is an exciting time for the district.”

Some of the reasons given to vote for the bond issue included providing the same learning opportunities for preschool, elementary and middle school students as the high school students, who are currently in a new $70 million school built largely by taxpayers, agreeing with the state’s assessment to replace buildings rather than repairing the aging schools and believing in worthiness of the state’s contribution of nearly $80 million.

“Knowing how bad the condition and age of the elementary and middle schools are and the economies of scale that can be realized with fewer buildings, this might be the only time to realize all of the cost savings and its a time to communicate that to voters,” Iosue said. “The district should really work on communicating the condition of the elementary schools, which are old and not in good condition. There you have a situation where it’s easy to show there is a solution to the problem.”

District officials already are hitting the circuit to answer questions. Recently, Gebhardt said he and Superintendent Tom Jama held court at Washington Avenue Christian Church.

“I was surprised by the number of really good questions out there,” Gebhardt said. “People are listening, want the information and everyone’s coming from a place of support.”

Jama said the informal and formal meetings with residents have been overwhelmingly positive.

“I have never heard anything negative about the master plan or the stadium,” he said. “Residents just want to know what we want to do and the different phases of the project and what can be accomplished with the money. They want the information to come to them so they can make informed decisions.”

Other issues survey touches upon

About 70 percent of those surveyed think the district should sell the land after demolishing old schools to generate revenue for the districts.

A majority of those polled (63 percent) “strongly agree” or “agree” with the plan to consolidate 11 elementary and middle schools into five facilities to save money. Now that the plan is taking shape, residents are seeing the advantages of fewer buildings to maintain.

However, participants might need more information about the campuses and the building configurations to ease concerns about grade levels comingling.

“They want to know and need to understand the K-8 and PK-8 buildings will have age appropriate spaces and there will only be comingling across appropriate grade levels,” Iosue said. “The district has to communicate what the buildings provide for students and how they will be separated.”

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