NEW CUMBERLAND - With a unanimous vote Monday, the Hancock County Board of Education put the legal and financial wheels in motion for a $37 million bond levy to appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
With $37 million approved by voters, school officials could forge ahead in late January or early February to seek bids $56 million in improvement projects. One part of the project includes a centralized Weirton Elementary that would be the largest elementary building in the state, housing 950 students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.
Besides replacing the aging Weirton Heights, Liberty and Broadview elementary buildings in the Weirton area, as well as improvements and repairs to the district's other buildings, the bond levy would also fund new, state-of-the-art athletic facilities for both Weir and Oak Glen high schools, putting the football, soccer and track facilities on the school campuses.
School Board President Jerry Durante said the board's job will be explaining the bond levy and its cost to district residents. Riding on the voters' approval is $19 million for the Weirton Elementary construction already awarded to the district by the School Building Authority.
Watching the election returns Nov. 2 along with Hancock County school officials will be superintendents and school boards of other West Virginia public school districts who would receive the School Building Authority money if Hancock County's bond levy fails.
Superintendent Suzan Smith already had a call the morning after she and Durante returned from the meeting in Charleston where the SBA made the $19 million award. A superintendent in one of those districts which would benefit from bond levy failure in Hancock County called Smith anxious to know the odds.
Durante noted several years ago school boards put before voters a plan to consolidate the district's two high schools into one. Voters adamantly rejected that notion.
He said voters made it clear they want two separate and distinct high schools. Voters have also said they would like each high school's athletic fields to actually be adjacent to the high schools.
Such a move was in the plans when Oak Glen was built, but there wasn't enough money left to move the football stadium to the high school from Newell, he said.
"I've been hearing for years from the people, 'When are you going to put the football stadiums by the high schools?'" said Durante. "This plan would do that."
With its vote Monday the board set the bond levy for $37 million for 25 1/2 years, with a maximum interest rate of 6.75 percent.
The cost to taxpayers will depend on the market value of their homes and whether or not they qualify for homestead exemption. Smith said the average market value of homes in Hancock County is about $75,000.
On a $75,000 home, the levy would add about $80 to $100 per year to the annual property tax bill. The owner of a $75,000 home eligible for homestead exemption would pay between $45 and $56.
The owner of a home with a market value of $55,000 would pay between $58 and $74, or between $23 and $29 with a homestead exemption.
The owner of a home with a market value of $125,000 would pay between $133 and $168 per year, or between $97 and $123 with a homestead exemption.
Smith said the bond call for the Nov. 2 ballot is the result of the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) that was developed last year by the citizens of Hancock County. The CEFP is a 10-year strategic plan that was developed through demographic studies of Hancock County, she said.
The result of the studies was that the most immediate need is replacing the three Weirton area elementary schools, and making improvements district wide to the other schools. Smith noted the improvements to the other buildings - to New Manchester Elementary and to Allison Elementary in particular, will ensure there will be school buildings in those communities for many years to come.
Work would begin in the fall of 2011 and be completed in 2013, with the demolition of the three Weirton elementary buildings by the winter of 2013. The athletic complexes at Weir and Oak Glen high schools would be completed in 2012.