Valley Central will not submit another bond referendum to voters this year after a change in the Department of Transportation’s timeline for the state to complete repairs on Route 17K gave the district more breathing room to consider a bond proposal. During a Board of Education meeting on Oct. 15, Valley Central Superintendent John Xanthis announced that the state had told the district that the DOT will not begin construction work on installing a traffic light on 17K outside the High School-Middle School complex until the summer of 2021.
In August, taxpayers rejected the district’s $22.7 million bond proposal, but the district was subsequently exploring the possibility of presenting another referendum to voters before the end of the year so construction work could begin in 2020 to align with the state’s original time frame. At the board’s previous meeting on Sept. 23, the council had scheduled a special meeting on Oct. 3 to weigh a bond proposal with a tentative goal of sending a referendum to the public in December.
After speaking to DOT representatives, the district canceled the special session and decided to slow down the bond process. “I think if the referendum had gone through we might have gotten different information, but certainly now they said that there is no urgency for us to go out for a bond because we don’t have to do our work until the summer of 2021,” Xanthis informed the board.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Xanthis suggested that moving forward the district could form a facilities committee that would include residents and board members to prioritize the district’s top infrastructure needs. “They had a facility committee here when I first came and they disbanded it,” he said. “But this would be a good thing, because any time we can have input from all the different schools and maybe a couple of different community members and a couple of board members and administrators and it comes out of committee with the support of the people who represent the whole district, I think you have a better chance of people at this table supporting it.”
Under the current tentative plan, the district could craft a smaller bond proposal that focuses on the parking lot renovation at the high school. “I think we should just go with the thing that we need for the DOT and the lights,” Xanthis said. “That would be the work in front of the high school and certainly to do the parking lots. Somewhere between $7-10 million dollars with contingencies. We’re going to get some good information from our bondsperson this week. Before we plan anything, I think it would be great for him to weigh in about what we can do based on what we have coming off the books. It gives us some better planning time.”
The district could submit a bond proposal to taxpayers next spring that zeroes in on the High School-Middle School complex work, and then look at a more robust package later on if that bond is approved first. “We spoke to the Board of Elections and next year you basically can’t do any elections from September through December because of the national election,” Xanthis said. “If we could do a small bond next May and then be ready for the following May, that would give us a full year to look at things. December and January are good times to do things, so we could look at a vote in January 2021 for a bond, that if we got it approved, could start in 2022.”
The district wants to time their work on the high school parking lot to launch ahead of the state’s construction on Route 17K, and if they time it right there could be added benefits. “They (DOT) said if we could align our work that they could actually do about 80 feet of realignment work for us on our property out of safety monies they have,” Interim School Business Official Brad Conklin said during Tuesday’s meeting.
The district’s long wait for a traffic light (or two) on 17K will be prolonged until 2021, but the state is moving ahead with the project. “We’re in the queue and they’re going to start the design next fall and start staging it after that,” Xanthis said. “But the real construction of widening the roads, doing the turning lanes and putting up posts for the lights won’t be until 2021.”
The board will continue its bond discussions in the coming months as they attempt to find a package that all seven council members can support. “We don’t want to wait too long,” Trustee Joe Bond deadpanned. “We don’t want to underestimate the time it’s going to take us to agree.”