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Union North $15 Million Building Project Dropped

May 16, 2011

05/17/11 After years of a tug-of-war between patrons of the Union-North United School district who were in favor of building a new $15.4 middle school and those opposed, the matter is now off of the table. During the meting of the school board May 12, the project was officially dropped with a vote of 3-2. Questions surrounding the proposed project concerning the need and where the money to build and operate a new facility would come from had divided the community following a 1028 pubic hearing on November 19, 2007.

At this point, funds totaling some $4.2million taken from the original funding for the $19.6 million project have been used for additions or renovations to the LaVille Elementary School and the LaVille Jr.-Sr. High School facilities. What do with the remaining $15.4 million has been tossed around for months.

A remonstrance filed in 2008 to end the building project was defeated. However, pro-se petitioner George Moffet filed further appeals to the tax court that kept the project from moving forward until April of last year.

But declining enrollment, a $1.4 million budget reduction made necessary by cuts in funding from the state, and the drop in the overall economy had many worried.

Three members of the current school board are new. It was no surprise that they were not in favor of continuing the project, since their platforms during the election included their opinions on the matter. The other two members of the five-person board had previously voted in favor of the project.

When asked that the project be put back on the meeting agenda in February, Superintendent Terry Barker suggested that the board should seek out what the legal ramifications of doing so could be. At the meeting on Thursday night, he brought forth one of the opinions.

Barker said, “Remaining funds could be used, if under the expansion of the high school, classrooms were added for intermediate proposes.”

Board member David Grenert clearly rejected the idea saying, “That’s a bad idea, deceptive, and I won’t have any part of it.” Grenert then made a motion to kill the project. He added, “Frankly, we’re sitting on the board because of opposition to the building.”

Mark Dickson, who is the current president of the board and was a sitting member during the vote for the original project, said the board at that time had not been deceptive and then made a motion to allow Barker to continue to seek all the facts before making a final decision. The motion was seconded by Rob Swathwwod, also a member of the board that passed the project. The motion failed on a vote of 3-2.

In addition to Grenert, newly elected board members Mike Berger and Dennis Graf shared their reasons for stopping the project. Berger said the enrollment in 1988 was more than 1, 500 and the projected enrollment for the next school year of 1,235 suggests it could function. Berger said, “The problem with the school board is that the public doesn’t trust use now.”Graf said, “You’ve already had plenty of time.”

The final vote of 3-2 to kill the project will now be reported to the DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance.).

After the meeting Moffet said, “Three years ago, we offered a compromise that would have included adding on to the elementary and renovations at the high school. Both ideas were rejected by the “pro-build crew”.” “Had the middle (school) been built, there would be no one to put in it,” Moffet said. Moffett added, “One of the things we (opposition) said was that we would always tell the truth and we have done that.”

 Carol Anders Correspondent