VERMILION — The Vermilion school board approved financing for a proposed consolidation project, which would move all of the district’s buildings into two — Vermilion High School and Sailorway Middle School.
The board discussed Monday night the proposal that was presented to the community during its meeting. Under the plan, the administrative offices will be moved into the two buildings and unused buildings will be auctioned off or rented out. Kindergarten through third-grade students will be moved into the middle school building, although they will be in a separate wing from current middle-school students.
The district has already put the South Street School up for auction. The consolidation is expected to save money by decreasing energy and maintenance costs needed to maintain the aging buildings, according to the district’s treasurer, Amy Hendricks.
Although the board presented a projected cost of the project as $20 million, Hendricks said, with interest, a 25-year forecast shows projected costs for the project at $35 million. Hendricks said the district has projected the consolidation will save $98,247 average per year, however, for a total savings of just under $2.5 million after paying off the principal and interest.
The Vermilion school district proposed a bond issue last year that would have raised $33 million for a similar project — a proposed renovation of the school buildings. 64 percent of voters turned down the issue, which would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home $122 a year in property taxes.
Superintendent Phil Pempin said the district’s proposal was able to be carried out this year, without a vote from community members, because of the school’s “good financial standing” after a reinvention plan the school completed to save money. Pempin said the school’s financial standing made it attractive to investors and the district was able to take out a loan for the project.
Board members have said the proposal is less costly than its proposal last year.
Board president Sid Jordan said the proposal was placed as a bond issue in 2011, because it was “the best way (they) knew how (to fund the project) at that time.”
The district will not need additional taxpayer money, but it will likely place another levy on the ballot in 2016.
Because of a reduction in funding for operations, Hendricks said the levy would have been placed on the ballot, regardless of the consolidation project, which she believes will actually put the school in better financial standing. The district is expected to save $100,000 annually in energy costs alone, she said.
“It’s still money that we have to spend no matter what,” Jordan said regarding the district’s operating costs.
The $20 million project would include furniture in the new building but not new computers or technology. The building would be set up for wireless access.
Lesko Associates, who were voted by board members to complete the project, also added in “soft costs” to the cost projection, including some outside sidewalks.
Jim Machkoff, a Vermilion resident who attended last Monday’s meeting, is skeptical of the school board’s proposed project, however.
Machkoff said board members have been “very vague” about the costs of funding the project, which was initially proposed at $17 million. Hendricks has said some of the project’s costs were not ironed out until the community meeting last Monday.
Machkoff added that community members should have had the opportunity to vote on the proposal.
“They’re asking us to pay the same amount they asked when the levy failed,” he said. “What they want to do is force this issue and ask for additional money.”
Charlie Smith, a Vermilion resident with three daughters who attend Vermilion schools, approves of the board’s proposal.
“I’m all for it,” she said. “I like that fact that it’s all going to be on one campus.”
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.