BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – Central Lee voters bucked a local trend of voting down school bond referendums and have passed a referendum to spend $12.9 million to upgrade facilities at the campus just southeast of Donnellson.
Absentee ballots carried the election with just under 80% of 475 absentee ballots breaking in favor of issuing the bonds. Day-of voting still carried a majority in favor of the measure, but not at the state-mandated 60%+1.
Voters at the polls cast 278 votes in favor of the measure and 233 against for a 54% approval.
Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said he’s a hometown kid and he gives credit to the community and parents who saw the value and need of the improvements.
“I’m a hometown boy and always credit our community and how they support us,” he said. “Central Lee residents will make you work a bit, but at the end of the day, they’ll support the district.”
The funds will be used for new classrooms for band and vocal programs, along with new preschool classrooms that would free up two additional classrooms to meet space needs at the elementary level.
There will also be a new competition and performance gym for elementary, middle, and high school events, and ADA-accessible locker rooms. Additional plans call for an expanded commons area for better student collaboration and improved building flow.
With the increased valuation in Lee County, the district was able to present the bond issue without increasing the property tax rate for next year. The current rate is $12.19/$1,000 of assessed valuation and the district said the debt service will not increase that rate.
Crozier has said all along that if the bond failed, that property tax rate would have dropped, but he said that dynamic helped get the bond passed.
“I think the property tax issue was also a big reason this passed,” Crozier said. “But I really attribute it to our community members who were out having conversations with parents and stakeholders and encouraging people to vote.”
Crozier said he wasn’t surprised at the low voter turnout based on attendance at community forums. Just under half of all the ballots cast were absentee.
“We heard there were some long lines last time and this time we just wanted to make sure people had opportunities.”
The district held three satellite voting locations in August to help the voter turnout.
Crozier said the plan going forward will be to get with stakeholders.
“Our next step on Thursday will be to meet with the architect and construction managers and with the administration team with plenty of input from stakeholders on the designs,” he said.
“We’ll go out for bids in February or March and hopefully break ground in May or June. It may seem like it’s quiet for a while, but there will be a lot of work going on behind the scenes.”
School Board president Mark Hulsebus couldn’t be reached for comment.