In a tight vote, the River Ridge School Board decided to move forward with the proposed Patch Grove site plan, which will bring track and football facilities to one campus.
The vote was 4-2, with Ken Nies, Cory Moravits, Jason Cathman, and Aaron Stagman voting in favor of the item. Karla Irish and Adam Guthrie voted against, while Kerri Schier was absent.
The members of the board were unanimous in their sentiment that they felt enacting the site plan (which also would have improvements to the baseball and softball fields) was the right way to go, but differed on how they should move forward.
Ken Nies led the side in favor, saying he has been kept awake on the subject. Looking at a Bloomington site which has upkeep costs, as well as unknowns that could become costly - during a maintenance report, the board learned that the circulating tank motor stopped and the original furnace blower motor was predicted to fail - each year the district put off implementing the site plan, it was costing them approximately $100,000. He noted that when they went to the voters about the idea during the previous referenda, the projected cost was $1.5 million, but now it is $2.2 million.
He worried not acting now would mean not only would the project be more expensive in another year, that they may face added expenses into the former Bloomington High School that they will never get back in a sale.
Nies continued, pointing out that because of increased revenue from tertiary aid for the referenda that added the middle school wing, and the increased enrollment since they moved all classes to Patch Grove, the district has a lower mil rate than before the referenda was passed.
Before the referenda passed, the mil rate was $12.73, and the district projected it to increase another $1.18 per $1,000, if the referenda passed. Instead, this year, the mil rate is $11.94.
“We were being responsible to our taxpayers, and doing what is right for our students, that are our duties,” Nies said.
He added they do not truly have numbers on the efficiencies that was found in the consolidation yet.
But Irish and Guthrie felt that the proposal - to borrow $1.7 million and utilize reserves, then return next spring with a referendum - would rub residents the wrong way. Guthrie stated that he talked to people in favor of the project who would vote against it if the district went through with it before asking for the money.
“I want to have the community to have a say in it,” Guthrie said.
“I remember how it went the first time, and we are in the same place,” Irish noted.
“I’ve lost some sleep at night trying to figure out the right way to do this,” Jason Cathman said during the debate. He said that looking at the numbers given to them at an earlier meeting by consultant Carol Wirth, that it made sense to move forward sooner, rather than later.
Depending on the reaction of the public, the district may be in a similar position it was in when it found that the Patch Grove and Bloomington sites were out of state code compliance. At that time in 2015, the board looked borrow funds to make repairs to both schools after a failed referendum to consolidate the district to one campus. At that point in time, a petition submitted called for a referendum on the borrowing. State law allows for residents to petition on any borrowing above $1 million. That ultimately led to the district scaling back the project, and using funds for roof replacement, as well as borrowing under $1 million, to finance the project.
That borrowing was ultimately dealt with in the referendum that had voters approve the middle school addition in Patch Grove.
More information about this story will be in the March 21 edition of the Herald Independent.