Editorial: YES for Lakewood
No one likes paying more taxes. But neither should Lakewood be educating its youngest students (Kindergarten through Second Grade) in a building more than 100 years old.
The Hebron Elementary School building has served our community well for many years, but it is no longer an acceptable school building. The classrooms are too small for today’s teaching methods. The school becomes unbearably hot when temperatures outside reach the 80’s and above. The only tools to address the heat are a makeshift network of fans and the occasional early dismissal. The heat is particularly oppressive in some second floor classrooms where a roof reflects heat into the classrooms. There is a very noticeable increase in temperature when you walk into those classrooms from the hallway.
The building is not handicap accessible. Another makeshift network – this time of chair lifts – makes it possible for disabled students to access the basement and first floor, but not the second floor. The cafeteria is too small and is located in the low-ceiling basement. While the school’s staff obviously tries to brighten and cheer up the old building, its physical limitations can’t be overcome.
Many voters were upset last November when the bond issue was rejected by a 3,483 to 2,454 vote. We know some voters were upset that the district spent close to $3 million for a new football stadium complete with synthetic turf before addressing the district’s most pressing need – a new elementary school. We understand that disgust.
That poor decision can’t be undone, but Lakewood voters spoke loudly in November 2017, replacing the incumbent board members seeking reelection. After two resignations early last year, Lakewood now has a completely new school board. They have asked questions and reevaluated priorities. The size of the bond issue was reduced. The new board members also wisely rejected using Certificates of Participation (COP) lease-purchase financing as part of the financial package. While it doesn’t require voter approval and thus could make the bond issue smaller, COPs have a higher interest rate than long-term bonds. We’re also know that board members will continue to ask questions during the key design and construction stages, helping hold down costs and cost overruns.
Lakewood voters have now expressed their displeasure twice – first replacing all the board incumbents seeking reelection and then rejecting the proposed bond issue. You have been heard. But now it’s simply time to replace a very old school building. At this point, another “no” vote only punishes our youngest students and a very dedicated Hebron staff.
After last November’s rejection, it appeared that raising interest rates and construction cost inflation could increase costs some four to six million over the bond issue’s 28-year term. Thankfully, we got a reprieve on interest rates that could save close to $4 million compared to the estimated costs last November. No one knows how long the Federal Reserve Bank’s pause on interest rate increases will last. Lakewood’s financial consultant told board members last month, “I would run like heck to get these bonds sold.” Though the ballot reads an estimated 5.4 mills, if current interest rates hold, the final millage (tax rate) could end up at 5 mills or slightly below. That’s less than the estimate last November.
The need is real and the timing is right on interest rates! You have a new board that is listening to you and is watching expenditures closely. It makes no sense to kick this can down the road. Even with your approval next week, students and teachers have another two years in an obviously substandard school building.
No one else is going to build Lakewood a new elementary school! It’s up to the Lakewood community to get it done. YES for Lakewood!