NORTH MANCHESTER — Residents here overwhelming rejected Manchester Community Schools’ plans for a fieldhouse connecting the high school and administration office, the most expensive and controversial component of the school corporation’s $15.7 million capital projects referendum that failed last week.
The project was originally presented as a safety issue: Middle school students frequently walk between the high school and administration office for class, therefore a fieldhouse connecting the two buildings would improve safety while also providing a space for extracurricular and athletic activities.
The $15.7 million proposal would have seen the relocation of school offices to the front entrance of each building too, another noted safety issue. But most of the projects included in the proposal had little to nothing to do with safety, including, critics argue, the fieldhouse itself.
Eighty percent of those who voted on the question last Tuesday rejected the proposal, which will now be tabled for at least two years. But with anticipated changes on the school board, it’s possible MCS will pursue an entirely different plan than the one presented to voters this fall.
“I argued from the beginning to separate security issues from the roof issue and put the fieldhouse on hold,” MCS board member-elect Dave Terflinger told the Plain Dealer. “First look at the needs, figure out what we can handle administratively and then hire an engineer if needed.”
Terflinger has suggested hiring an outside firm to conduct a safety audit, which would identify security concerns and possible solutions. That’s one possibility that appears to have some support.
Outgoing Superintendent Mike Pettibone, whose resignation is anticipated this week, suggested that the school board regroup in January before setting a new agenda.
“This provides an opportunity to pause and reevaluate the best procedure to secure each of the schools,” Pettibone told the Plain Dealer last Wednesday. “I have admired the MCS board for not only allowing but encouraging it to go to a referendum. I trust these board members 100 percent.”
State law requires school corporations to wait two years after losing a referendum before bringing the same or substantially similar question before voters, according to MCS attorney Mark Frantz. But he said voters may petition to have the question appear earlier, a possibility which appears unlikely given the sheer number of people who voted against the question this year.
That means Squire Fieldhouse, with an estimated price tag of $9.5 million, is not on the table at this time. But less expensive projects, like the proposed roof repair at the administration office, may be considered before the two year period ends.
None of those projects were included in the 2019 budget, however. MCS Business Manager Jeremy Markham said the administration is still checking out financing options should the board decide to undertake some of the smaller projects, but nothing is determined yet.