West Franklin voters said yes to a $13 million bond issue Tuesday in a special election. Of the 816 votes cast, 53 percent of voters were in favor of the proposal, which will include upgrades to the middle school/high school in Pomona, Williamsburg Elementary and Appanoose Elementary to provide more usable space and make the learning environment safer. The final vote was 434-380.
“It’s a great day to be a Falcon and a good day for the Falcon community,” Jerry Turner, West Franklin superintendent, said. “I’m always the optimist. I figured we had a chance (to pass it) and it looks like we did. What it tells me is that our patrons care about kids and our patrons want to do what they can to enhance our kids’ education.”
Marcy Prouty, a member of the KIDS Committee which worked to inform the voters about the planned improvements and costs, spent a nervous night anticipating the vote. Prouty, who has worked on previous bond issues, said this time the improvements benefited all of the West Franklin communities.
“You spend so much time and passion that you can’t help but get invested in it,” she said. “I still think the communities do not want the schools at one campus. The people in Williamsburg don’t want to lose their school and I respect that. I think what was different with this bond was that we tried to do what was best for everyone.”
Joseph Nocero, Pomona, was disappointed in the outcome of the vote, he said. Nocero was in favor of the public election, but not the timing of this vote.
“I am disappointed in when they had the vote,” he said. “This is an off-election, election. We are going to have primaries coming soon [in August]. My biggest beef was the amount of money they spent. They spent a whole lot of money on what they were doing.”
The election drew a 24 percent turnout, which is more than double the typical turnout for a school board election, according to the county clerk’s office.
The largest upgrades will be at the secondary school in Pomona. Williamsburg Elementary will get a new enclosed walkway between the main school and the cafeteria. There will also be work done to the gym windows, which will make it safer during severe weather, according to the district.
At Appanoose Elementary, a new music room, which will serve as a storm shelter that can accommodate all students and staff, is planned. Currently the school does not have a storm shelter.
At the middle school/high school, a new gymnasium will be built that will serve as the main gym for athletic competitions, pep rallies, graduation and physical education classes. Also planned is a new eight-lane track with a rubberized surface. Additional rooms will include a new music room and a new weight room. The new music room, which will serve the band and choir, will also do double duty as a storm shelter for the school.
Other safety upgrades are a covered walkway between the middle school and high school and new vocational room for agriculture and wood shop. This would replace the shops currently located across K-68, which requires students to cross the busy highway to reach it.
Turner said there were many reasons this bond issue was needed but he is pleased that the schools will be made safer.
“I do think that safety was part of it, but also the fact that we needed new facilities,” Turner said. “I think moving the vo-ag building to the other side of the highway, to me, was one of the big items in it. I don’t have to watch kids walk across 68 highway now. It’s sad to say but we do live in an environment now where we have to be concerned about safety.”
Prouty thinks safety of the kids was another reason this bond issue passed.
“What happens is something does happen, then we all carry the burden that we tried but did nothing,” she said. “I personally didn’t want to carry that guilt and I think a lot of other people didn’t either.”
Nocero said after all the improvements are made, the bond would not make the schools safer.
“They did nothing to secure our schools,” he said. “We are not getting a security guard, resource officers, metal detectors or locked doors at the entry.”
Turner said the school board would talk about steps for moving forward. He said the board most likely will use a construction manager to head the project. Filling that role will be the first step, Turner said.
“I want to thank each and everyone of the individuals that helped out on this,” Turner said. “We had people on the facilities committee that sat down for numerous meetings and hours with some heartbreak because not everybody got what they wanted. That committee put their nose to the grindstone and said this is what we think the community will pass, and they were right.”
Turner also praised the work of the KIDS committee for the hours they spent informing people about the bond issue and what it would cost.
Prouty said her committee will celebrate this week and then meet to look at what is needed to move forward. And she is hopeful the district can move forward without division.
“I hope the people that voted ‘no’ aren’t angry or mad,” she said. “I know how I felt when it didn’t pass last time, so I hope maybe they can move forward. For me, this bond was to bring this community together, and our kids only benefit from that.”