Rootstown voters are being asked to approve an income tax plus a bond issue on Nov. 6 to fund a new K-12 school building.

Issue 9 includes a 0.25 percent earned income tax combined with a 7.32-mill bond issue to fund its portion of the $43 million project. The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission has agreed to fund 42 percent of the project.

“If the levy is not successful we may lose our current place in line with the OFCC and the OFCC contribution may also be less,” Rootstown Superintendent Andrew Hawkins said.

The measure would cost non-senior citizens about $564 annually but cost qualifying seniors $348 annually based on a home value of $160,000 and an annual median income of $61,000.

Qualifying seniors receive a homestead exemption, which allows low-income senior citizens and permanently and totally disabled Ohioans to reduce their property tax bills by shielding some of the market value of their homes from taxation. The exemption, which takes the form of a credit on property tax bills, allows qualifying homeowners to exempt up to $25,000 of the market value of their homes from all local property taxes. 

Tax collection for the bond issue, if approved, would not begin until the school district sold the bonds, according to David Conley, owner of Rockmill Financial Consulting LLC.

In November 2017, the district tried to pass a 0.50 percent income tax and bond issue combination for a $48 million project, which failed by 400 votes.

“We changed the structure of the financing to a 0.25 percent earned income tax for 25 years and a 7.32-mill bond issue for 37 years,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said this year the Board of Education hired Hasenstab Architects to perform pre-bond services and help provide residents with conceptual images of what the new facilities could look like. According to a survey conducted by the Ohio School Boards Association, many voters said they didn’t know what they were voting for because they hadn’t seen much planning. In response, Hawkins said the district strove for better communication about funding and what the facilities might look like.

He added there was confusion over a possible Joint Economic Development District last fall as well, but township and school officials met in January to clear up the confusion and determined there was no JEDD possibility. District officials also determined earlier this year that moving the school’s location was not an option with nowhere to go.

During several community meetings held in April and May, Hasenstab Architects outlined several possibilities and ultimately landed on a conceptual plan of building a new K-12 building behind the current elementary school building. Instead of phasing the project, and moving students slowly into the building, Hasenstab president Dennis Check said it would be more cost-efficient and safer to finish the building and move everyone in before demolishing the aging buildings.

Hawkins said the buildings are not ADA compliant, and need new infrastructure to accommodate technology and security needs.

“The district has buildings as old as 102 years old and these buildings are not conducive to fully meet the needs of today’s student,” he said. “Furthermore, modern buildings would provide classroom spaces that will enable the students to learn in an environment that will prepare them for the future. The current buildings were constructed to prepare the students for the industrial age and we need to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s ever-changing global workplace.”

The 165,000-square-foot new building, as of the most recent presentation by Hasenstab Architects, includes a K-12 building with a 200-seat performing arts center with 300 retractable seats to accommodate a total of 500 people. Parts of the project such as the auditorium and sports facilities will be locally funded initiatives, or LFIs.

A new synthetic turf field and a new track would be in the same place as the current football field/track with the existing bleachers. The latest conceptual site plan shows keeping the current gymnasium as a stand-alone building with locker rooms and restrooms instead of building a new field house.

Check said having the LFIs done at the same time as the new building has the benefit of lower construction costs, because if the district waits to build something later it will cost more. Additionally, while OFCC isn’t helping fund the LFIs, the district would benefit by OFCC oversight of the project essentially at no cost.

If Issue 9 is approved, Hawkins said the facilities would open in the fall of 2022. 

Reporter Briana Barker can be reached at 330-541-9432, bbarker@recordpub.com or @brianabarker1.