On Feb. 4, voters will be asked to head to the polls to decide whether to allow Farmington Municipal Schools to create a bond that will be used to replace and upgrade aging school buildings that were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The $35 million bond would be used to build a new Farmington High School (about $30 million) and Northeast Elementary School ($2.6 million) as well as to upgrade Hermosa Middle School ($3.3 million). About $11 million would be available for other projects on the district's 5-year plan. Some of the project funding is available from a previous bond and about 60 percent of the funding for the nearly $100 million for the combined projects would come from the state.
Farmington High is at the top of the state's Public School Facilities Authority list of schools most in need of repair and replacement. Northeast Elementary is using seven portable classrooms to serve a student population of 584. School officials say the restroom facilities are "overtaxed." Hermosa needs classrooms, a library and a cafeteria.
The new buildings also will address safety issues. The designs are intended to protect students in the event of a violent incident. The floor plans create ways to control how people get in and out of the schools and the students' exposure. Unfortunately, this is a point parents cannot ignore.
We realize that most people are tightening their budgets and finding ways to go without things that seemed necessary a few years ago. Even the rays of hope we see for getting this economy back on track likely will take years to develop.
But a community that falls behind in educating its children has no future. And we believe that these needs are not frivolous or excessive. School officials say they are taking advantage of matching state funding and have trimmed the project to maximize that contribution. The bond also includes money for projects at other schools — heating and cooling improvements, new roofs, replacing windows, better playgrounds, and restroom upgrades.
Property owners would see a decrease in their tax bill when the current bond expires. If voters approve the new bond, it will pick up where the old one leaves off and they would not see any change. A vote in favor allows the district to create a new bond at the same rate — $7.50 per $1,000 of a property's assessed value.
School officials say they will go back to the drawing board and find ways to make what they have work, if voters reject the bond.
We think voting "no" to get those property tax dollars back is short sighted and will harm this community's ability to compete for the long-term.
District enrollment — which has been flat for more than a decade — grew by 2.3 percent this year. And school officials say the elementary schools are increasingly crowded. Any kind of upturn in the economy that creates jobs here could quickly create critical space problems. The new construction, although not meant to account for a significant expansion of the student population, would provide more breathing room and some flexibility in dealing with future growth.
If you're not convinced, we encourage you to attend a public meeting tomorrow at 6 p.m. in Piedra Vista High School's Turano Chrisman Theater. Ask the hard questions and make up your own mind. Either way, we encourage you to vote.