There comes a time in every community where residents need to take their turn and invest in needed upgrades or expansions to their school district facilities.
Janesville has arrived at that juncture.
On the table Tuesday will be an $8.6 million bond issue referendum for the construction of classrooms, gymnasium space, a common corridor and roofing at Janesville’s school building.
This isn’t the first go-round on plans to expand, renovate and improve the school. Last year, the district twice failed to pass a $5.4 million bond issue. The first vote garnered 58 percent of the 60 percent supermajority needed for passage. The second attempt, while attracting more voters, got slightly more than 50 percent.
To supporters of the referendum, there was really no choice about coming back for another crack at it.
“The issue hasn’t changed; we’re out of classrooms, we’re out of common spaces, we’re out of space,” Superintendent B. J. Meaney said after the last attempt.
The district is asking voters to approve a property tax increase of $4.05 per $1,000 of taxable property value to repay the general obligation bonds over 20 years. It’s a sizable extra burden. In comparison to the alternative, however, it is a plan worth paying for.
District officials are quick to temper that impact on tax bills.
“It’s actually going to be a new tax ask of less than $2.71,” Meaney said.
That is expected to be accomplished through a reduction in the physical plant and equipment levy.
“Our PPEL is set to expire in a couple of years,” Meaney noted of the levy’s voter-approved portion. “We will not come out and ask them to approve a $1.34 PPEL.”
The district would still have the board-approved portion of the PPEL, which is 33 cents per $1,000 of taxable value.
Officials have stated the district will unveil further efforts to reduce the impact, particularly in the period before the PPEL expires.
Approval of the referendum would pave the way for an addition on the northwest end of the school that would contain a new competition gym and varsity locker rooms, and expansion of the band room, three new high school classrooms and the corridor.
Three middle school and two preschool classrooms would be added on the north end near the middle of the building. Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant renovations would be made to the access from the preschool rooms to the cafeteria.
Four elementary classrooms would be added at the east end of the building. Two nearby small classrooms would be renovated into ADA-compliant restrooms.
Outside air exchangers would be added for the middle school, which currently has none. The boiler and the roof over the elementary and gym areas would be replaced. The roofs are nearly 60 years old.
New parking would be added west of the football field and playground modifications may be made east of the school.
The community is growing and enrollment is projected to increase. Space is already at a premium at the school, with portable classrooms on the horizon should this third attempt also fail.
“The facilities committee looked at the needs of the school long term,” Meaney said.
Indeed, the committee, district officials and supporters have done their homework. They’ve worked long and hard in disseminating information, taking questions and collecting input from school district stakeholders and taxpayers.
The sticker shock, of course, is the largest hurdle for those who have opposed the bond issue in the past. However, we urge voters to think of it as an investment in our next generation and their futures — as well as the future of the community. Strong and effective K-12 schools are a key foundation of strong local economies and are critical to any area that wants to ensure vibrant and robust communities.
There are reasons the community is growing. The Janesville area is a fine community. The school district needs to grow with it. It’s a community that deserves the best learning environment for its children.
Growing enrollment is a good sign — if you are prepared for it.
This referendum, and the plan to expand facilities in the Janesville Consolidated School District, is an effort to be prepared. Should it fail again, they are prepared with a temporary backup plan — portable classrooms. That’s not a great way to keep up with — or spur — community growth.
The Janesville Consolidated School District has excellent leadership, faculty, staff, families and students. We encourage Janesville area voters to give them the tools for success.
We strongly endorse a yes vote on Tuesday’s school bond referendum in Janesville.