Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Levy would maintain buildings

Fairfield seeking renewal

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

This is one in a series of stories previewing school bond issues on the May 6 ballot.

FAIRFIELD - Maintenance of Fairfield's 10 schools would be restricted to emergency repairs without approval of a 2-mill permanent improvement levy.

The levy facing voters Tuesday would replace one first approved in 1978 and renewed four times since. It is expected to raise $2.5 million each of the next five years with collections beginning in January.

Guided tours outlining plans for planned improvements at each school continue this week. Each begins at 7 p.m.

• Today: Intermediate School.

• Thursday: Central, North, South and West elementary schools.

The expiring levy brings in about $885,000 each year. The extra money is needed, school officials say, because of Fairfield's size and age of buildings.

Since 1978, the district opened three additional buildings - the kindergarten center, East Elementary School and the senior high school - increasing space in the district by 83 percent, to 1.2 million square feet.

"We're operating on dollars from 25 years ago, yet the age of the buildings is 25 years older,'' said Superintendent Robert Farrell. "We can't keep them safe and maintained on the same amount of money.''

At least one community group disagrees and says the school board is asking for too much money for what needs to be done. Citizens for Accountability and Results in Education disagrees with school officials and is urging voters to turn down the levy.

"This is the $64,000 question: How have the schools gotten to the point where they need $12 million in repairs when we've had this levy for 25 years?'' said Arnold Engel, CARE spokesman. "I agree there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of. What they're (school officials) telling us they need and what they need are two different things.''

Among the "pork" in the levy cited by CARE is money set aside for additional security and technology improvements.

Had the levy been smaller and focused only on repairs, CARE might have supported it, Engel said.

"It is totally ludicrous in this day and age for anyone to think that security systems for our children is fluff,'' said Anne Crone, school board president. "This permanent improvement levy has been carefully thought out. I hope our voters have the confidence that we're moving in the right direction.''

Specifics for how the money would be spent by building, by year, are outlined in a 14-page document. Topping the list is $2.1 million for security including motion detection systems, interior and exterior cameras, upgrades to alarm systems, emergency lighting and handrails. Stairways would be enclosed at six schools.

Next on the list is $1.6 million set aside for roof repair or replacement. Replacing such things rusted toilet partitions, bleachers, lockers and heating systems has been addressed.

E-mail suek@infionline

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