Third time’s the charm? Firelands asks again for construction cash

By Evan Goodenow -

For the third time in less than a year, Firelands board of education members are asking residents to pay for a $35.7 million new middle and high school.

Board members on May 2 voted to seek a 36-year, 3.61-mill property tax levy and a 0.25 percent income tax.

The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $132 annually. The average home value for a home in the Firelands school district, which includes parts of Amherst, Brownhelm, Camden, Florence, and Henrietta townships as well as South Amherst, is $150,000.

The income tax would cost a worker living in the district and earning $50,000 annually an additional $125 yearly.

It would exclude taxing disability, Social Security, and workers’ compensation benefits, which board members hope will make voting for it more appealing to elderly residents.

The vote will be held in an Aug. 2 special election, which will cost taxpayers $17,897.

Board members previously said they would’ve preferred to have the vote in November when a big turnout is expected for the presidential election rather than in the summer when school’s out. However, the deadline for receiving $6.2 million in state taxpayer money for the project expires in August.

Board members said there were no guarantees how much state money, if any, they would receive if they missed the deadline.

The election comes after a 36-year, 5.2-mill bond issue and 0.5-mill maintenance levy was defeated 53 percent to 47 percent in November and March.

While Firelands has the lowest taxes of all Lorain County school districts, some residents say they can’t afford the proposed 135,878-square-foot building, which would be located next to the current high school at 10643 Vermilion Rd., Henrietta Township.

If this latest effort succeeds, the school would open in 2020 and house about 820 students in grade 6-12. It would replace South Amherst Middle School and Firelands High School built in 1910 and 1954 respectively.

Those buildings have cooling, heating, and plumbing problems. Fixing them would exceed two-thirds the cost of building anew, according to superintendent Mike Von Gunten.

He said community events, direct mailers, fliers, and yard signs will be used to promote the bond issue/income tax.

While it’s difficult to convince residents to vote to pay higher taxes, Von Gunten said the new school would have long-term savings through improved energy efficiency and improved academic achievement. Good schools traditionally boost property values.

“The bottom line is both our buildings need to be replaced,” he said. “And we need to provide a 21st century environment to educate our kids to make sure they’re prepared to be successful in today’s competitive world.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.

By Evan Goodenow