road to referendum

Hillsdale will vote on Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Our aging middle school has been discussed for a long time.

Now a solution is proposed for our learners and community.

The Hillsdale Board of Education will ask voters on Tuesday, March 14, 2023 for permission to borrow $82.7 million to replace the century-old George G. White Middle School. Because there are more students, GW is out of space. Age has put GW out of date. Together, those factors mean Hillsdale is out of time to continue delaying action.

How can residents learn more?

  • Residents are invited to walk through GW, hear about the plan and ask questions from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. In addition to seeing the classrooms, gym, cafeteria and other rooms designed for K-8 students in the 1920s, visitors will be able to see pictures of what a modern middle school looks like.

  • The school district held a Virtual Forum on Jan. 26. to give the community a chance to hear from experts and ask questions leading up to the important vote. A recording of that forum is here.

What is a bond referendum?

A bond referendum is a vote in which a school district asks voter approval to borrow funds through the sale of bonds. Only after a bond referendum is approved by voters can a district sell bonds to fund large-scale projects, like construction of a new school, that are not achievable through the annual budget. In contrast, the annual budget funds day-to-day operations, such as salaries, supplies and regular maintenance.

OUR proposAL

ReplacE The aging
MIDDLE SCHOOL ...

George G. White Middle School has long shown its age. The building lacks the characteristics that form the foundation of a 21st century learning experience, which fosters innovation, a love of learning and space to support psychological and physical wellness.

Our middle school faces extensive challenges. It lacks the physical space needed for our students and programming. Our mechanical systems - HVAC, electric, plumbing - are ailing and are the victim of many years of piecemeal fixes driven by emergency circumstances.

The building's needs include: classrooms space of appropriate size for today's learners; new boilers, windows, doors and roofing; efficient and safe parent drop-off zones; staff and visitor parking; a gymnasium that meets the demands of our physical education learners and robust recreation/community athletics; and cafeteria space and service areas that can accommodate the student population of today and tomorrow.

... WITH a New middle school across the street

**Sample Rendering**

FOUR MAIN POINTS:

  1. The option to do nothing is not realistic. Years of constant repairs and piecemeal fixes do not change the reality that GW has seen its share of wear and tear since being built 100 years ago. The learning environment is small and outdated. Inefficient mechanical systems strain the operating budget. The exterior of GW has deteriorated beyond major repair.

  2. State aid will contribute up to $5.4 million to build a new school if voters agree to pay the rest with local taxes. Early discussions included state aid to pay “up to a third” of the costs, but that was only an estimate for rehabilitating the current building. Expanding it, which Hillsdale also needs, would have brought about the same aid percentage as the proposal on the ballot. In fact, the per-month tax impact of renovating and expanding was estimated at $72 per month including state aid – compared to the $95 per month cost of building a new school.

  3. Voter approval would put into action the proposal that emerged from strategic planning in 2019, with cost estimates from 2022 and a new school in 2026. Voter rejection would re-start the process of concept development, new cost estimates and state approval, with a timeline of one to two years before a public referendum.

  4. Community use of GW is strong beyond the school day. Recreational activities such as basketball and learning enrichment such as Winter Workshops take place there, and it is frequently used as one of the few large, indoor gathering spaces in the town. All residents benefit from quality schools.

what's the timeline?

The problem has been known for years, and in December 2019 a Strategic Planning Committee determined it was time for action. After a pandemic pause, the Board of Education sought state approval for a bond referendum. If voters approve that proposal on Tuesday, March 14, official construction plans would be submitted to the state Department of Education for review.

Timing: It would take 10-12 months for review of the construction plans followed by the public bidding process. Construction of a new building would take 18-24 months. Students could be in the new building for the Fall of 2026. Once students are permitted to occupy the new building, the current George G. White School would be converted to an athletic complex with a synthetic turf field marked for multiple sports. It would be available for student use during school hours and community use in the evening and on weekends.

Costs: All things considered -- including furnishings of the new school, demolition of the old one, creation of athletic facilities and a cushion for "unknowns" including inflation -- are estimated at $82.7 million. State aid would pay up to $5.4 million of that amount. The rest would be paid back through property taxes over 30 years. The "real feel" tax impact is estimated at $95 per month for a home assessed at Hillsdale's average.

What's meant by "real feel?" The district is nearly done paying for the improvements made through a referendum that voters approved 20 years ago. That will result in an $8.59/month drop in the tax rate for the 2023/24 school year. Simultaneously, voter approval in March 2023 would result in a new rate of $103.59. The balance of those is what taxpayers would really feel, and that's a net increase of about $95 per month for a home assessed at Hillsdale's average ($474,172). See the FAQs page to learn how assessed value is different from market value.

Why not expand and renovate GW? During the Board's process, the cost of building a new school was compared to a ball-parked cost of $72 per month to expand and renovate. That included about $3.7 million (in 2021 pricing) to rent modular trailers for a minimum of two years. It would have disrupted the middle school experience for students. After that, Hillsdale would be left with the many unknown factors that come from renovating a 100-year-old school, and some architectural constraints could not be overcome. A survey of people who learned about the options showed very strong support for the proposal to invest in a new middle school.

All residents benefit from well-maintained, quality schools, like the ones shown in these photos. A survey by Realtor.com put hard facts behind the general assumption that schools matter to homebuyers -- 91% said district boundaries were important in their hunts. It also found that homebuyers were willing to give up a bedroom or garage to live in the right district; others said they were willing to exceed their budgets to do so.

Hillsdale faces a turning point on March 14, 2023, when voters consider a proposal to invest in a modern, right-sized school and athletic field space.