FWCS referendum dollars stretching further than expected

District looking at future referendum

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Money approved by voters in a 2012 school referendum is getting more projects done than Fort Wayne Community Schools first anticipated. Projects under a $119 million referendum have come in under budget which is allowing more work to get completed.

When voters gave the green light, the money was to be used to replace and improve 36 of the district’s 51 school buildings. Twenty-six of those buildings were part of the district’s plan to catch up on roof and window replacement and some buildings would finish installing an air conditioner, which 13 schools under the referendum did not previously have.

The ten other buildings were to get more extensive work that work focused on the most serious issues in the buildings, including HVAC, window, and roof replacement. It also included safety and other basic infrastructure improvements. A 2011 proposal showed those ten buildings could take on more than $100 million of the referendum, with Snider High School getting more than $40 million in projects.

“The good news is a lot of work has been completed,” said FWCS Board member Glenna Jehl. “A lot of schools have been helped. The administration has done a great job of monitoring costs and getting the most out of the dollars.”

Some work remains. Jefferson Middle School and Weisser Park Elementary were approved by renovations in March. The projects are expected to begin this summer.

Jehl said the district had about $17 million left in referendum money to spend. Of that money, about $9 million still had to be allocated. The school board member said projects were getting done cheaper than anticipated because bids were coming in at lower dollar amounts.

District leaders said $2 million would not be spent.

“Of the schools that got the improvements, not everything on the wish list could be done,” said Jehl. “Now we’re going to be able to take some of that money and go back and address some other things that needed to be done in those schools but maybe wasn’t the top priority.”

Law requires the district to only spend the referendum dollars on the 36 buildings that were approved. That’s why another referendum is likely.

“There are a lot of other schools within the district that also need improvements and that’s why we’re talking about going back to the taxpayers and asking for more money,” said Jehl.

Jehl and other board members met with administrators this week to get an update on the district’s long-range plan. The 2012 referendum was the phase one for the district. Two more are planned.

“We wanted to come back and as for $60 million more for phase two, and then another $60 million for phase three,” said Jehl, who added the two phases could be combined into one, which could allow the work to get done more quickly.

The district has said phase two could begin in 2017, if approved during an election in 2016. Buildings that would get addressed may include Lane Middle School, Glenwood Park Elementary School, Northrop High School, Waynedale Elementary School and Lindley Elementary School.

The district would like to see phase three begin in 2020, again, if a referendum is approved by voters. Work in that phase may include Wayne High School, Shawnee Middle School, Whitney Young Early Childhood Center, St. Joseph Central Elementary School and Price Elementary School.

“I think we’re in a good position with the community because we’ve done our due diligence and acted responsibility with the money that was entrusted to us,” Jehl said.

According to FWCS’s website, by the district spreading out the cost at the beginning of each phase additional tax increases likely would be unnecessary. The 2012 referendum was estimated to cost the average homeowner in the district, which has a median home market value of $89,600, $27 a year or $2.27 a month.

The average age of the district’s school buildings is 54-years old. The oldest building is Anthis Career Center, which was built in 1902. The newest school building is Miami Middle School, which was built in 1976.

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