A $24 million bond issue is heading to ballot to cover rising costs for a new Athens high school

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Voters in the Athens City School District will be asked in November to approve a $24 million bond issue to build a new high school.

The district’s board of education unanimously approved putting the bond issue on the ballot at its meeting Thursday.

The additional money is needed because the school district no longer has enough to build the school. Construction costs have gone up significantly since voters approved a $60.5 million bond issue five years ago that was supposed to cover the district’s share of remodeling and rebuilding costs for Athens schools. School bonds are sold to investors then paid back with property taxes.

The Athens High School entrance on Johnson Road.
The Athens High School entrance on Johnson Road. Voters will be asked to approve an additional $24 million bond issue in November to build a new high school at the same location. [WOUB photo | Michelle Rotuno-Johnson]
The proposed new bond issue drew opposition from Ohio University adjunct professor Alan McMillan, who spoke at the meeting and criticized district leaders for not properly communicating with the community about the need for more money until the last minute.

“I believe you’re doing this under the cover of darkness,” said McMillan, who said he’s talked to others who feel the same. “Stop now and use the existing high school and don’t float another levy.”

Superintendent Tom Gibbs said as unfortunate as it is to go back to voters for more money, the school needs to be built.

“Yeah, we’re not happy,” Gibbs said. “The community had a very broad and very deep conversation about what the community wanted as a whole in the long term, and that included a new high school.”

The $24 million would be enough for the board to acquire the state’s matching funding to finish the project. The state is expected to pitch in around $25 million for the roughly $60 to $65 million project. The district has roughly $7 million left over from the 2018 bond issue that will make up the difference.

Gibbs previously anticipated the bond issue to be $21 million, but at Thursday’s meeting, the board authorized a bond issue up to $25 million and the actual figure mentioned was $24 million.

The extra $3 million added to the resolution is to account for the construction of an auxiliary gym at the new school.

The district receives a certain amount of funding from the state for school buildings based in part on the number of students in attendance. The state’s share for the new high school is fixed under the master plan approved more than 20 years ago for the Athens district.

But the next time the district looks to remodel or replace school buildings, the state’s contribution will be significantly lower because enrollment in the Athens district has been declining.

The board also passed a resolution Thursday to build a new tennis court outside of the high school. This resolution is not part of the master plan.