Grafton — Anyone who has played soccer or baseball on the fields in the Grafton School District in the last few years can attest: they need improvement.
Whether those improvements are made using dollars from the proposed referendum or through the district’s budget remains to be decided.
Tuesday, April 4, could mark the district’s second attempt in two years to pass a referendum that seeks to demolish Grafton Elementary School, renovate and upgrade all other schools; add on to Kennedy and Woodview elementary schools. Plans also include upgrades to Grafton High School to help improve infrastructure, program resources and learning spaces.
The board is expected to vote on the final wording at its meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 23, when it will review two options. Eight different options were on the table to start with, but an ad hoc committee that met throughout the second half of 2016 helped whittle it down to the two that remain.
One option includes plans to add a softball field and upgrade existing baseball and soccer fields at Grafton High School, while the second option drops the estimated $1.05 million in athletic improvements.
Analyzing needs versus wants has been high on the priority list as the district has considered the options in the last several months.
With costs estimated at just a bit more than $41.09 million, including the athletic improvements, Superintendent Jeff Nelson said the board has been carefully considering adjustments that could be made to keep costs down.
Most recently at its Jan. 9 meeting, the board discussed making nearly $1.2 million in reductions to the overall budget.
“In our community listening sessions back in November, a big thing we heard (from residents) is ‘are you still asking for more than what you need?’” Nelson said. “We need to be fiscally responsible and we want to make sure our taxes are as low as possible, and that led us to say let’s look at this and say are these needs or wants?”
A reduction in size of the music and art rooms at KES, as well as a reduced number of bleachers in the gymnasiums at KES and WES are among the changes that reduced anticipated costs by an estimated $362,000.
In addition, the updated plans call for making improvements to the WES main office in its existing location, potentially saving $318,000, as well as eliminating a one-classroom addition for early childhood programming, accounting for a potential savings of about $344,400.
Meanwhile, the cost estimate to renovate the soccer and baseball field and add a softball field at Grafton High School is estimated at about $1.05 million.
If the board opts to leave the athletic improvements off the ballot, Business Director Topher Adams said there are two other options to consider.
“The board can examine options to either use fund balance or borrow under the revenue limit using Fund 38,” Adams explained.
While Adams said either option is viable, he added there are also pros and cons to consider with each.
Borrowing the money would cost the district about $75,000 per year, including interest, he said.
In contrast, using fund balance for the one-time purchase would stay well within the district’s guidelines for the remaining balance. However, Adams added it could compromise the district’s bond rating, and subsequently its borrowing power on other projects.
Voters in 2016 rejected a $47.7 million referendum for renovation and reconstruction work at Grafton High School, John Long Middle School and Kennedy, Woodview and Grafton elementary schools. Despite a community survey that showed support for the plan, the referendum failed by 206 votes.
Voters also declined borrowing $1.8 million to upgrade outdoor physical education, athletic and recreation areas by a margin of 268 votes.
“There are a lot of great things happening in our district, but when you look at the referendum, there is really so much more that could be happening if we improve our facilities,” Nelson said. “With this referendum, we are looking to improve efficiencies and plan for the future while we continue to evolve our educational system as a whole.”