Norris Public Schools patrons will decide a $14 million bond election for the construction of an intermediate elementary facility as well as renovations to the current high school building in March.

In December, the Board of Education authorized the mail-in election for March, President Patty Bentzinger said.

“We have kept an eye on our enrollment and number of kids in the classrooms at the school,” Bentzinger said. “We had a study that we looked at with our architects in 2008 and kind of made some plans based on that when we would reach some benchmarks that we would really need to think about doing something space wise.”

With that, the board unanimously authorized setting up a mail-in election through Lancaster County.

Ballots will be sent to registered voters living in the Norris school district through the mail on or around Feb. 23-25.

All ballots must be completed correctly and received by the Lancaster County Election Office by 5 p.m., Tuesday, March 13.

Currently, Norris Elementary’s enrollment is 777 students, approximately 97 percent of the capacity of the school per a 2008 site study conducted by DLR and Olsson Associates on behalf of the school board.

Superintendent John Skretta said Norris has kept a close eye on the school’s enrollment.

“This wasn’t arrived at by accident,” Skretta said. “We looked at what the class sizes were and the practical capacity of the elementary and saw it’s a really good time to make that distinction and make an intermediate school that would serve our students better.”

If voters approve the bond, Skretta said Norris will “move aggressively to complete a building that will be done in the fall of 2013.”

“Looking at our growth, we’re going to be at that 800-plus number in the fall of 2013,” Skretta said. “The timing should work really well when you think about enrollment and capacity.”

Skretta said Norris is able to take advantage of retiring bonds from previous projects as well as low interest rates with the bond election.

Previously, Norris used Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Funds (QCPUF) for repairs from the 2004 tornado that hit the school as well as additions and upgrades in 2005 and 2006 that will be retiring this year.

“With those coming off, we would be able to roll in the new debt without adversely affecting the levy,” Skretta said. “That’s about as good as anyone could hope for in terms of public policy and stewardship and municipal bonds being used in a smart way.”

Bentzinger described the election as a “window period” between debt rolling off, low interest rates and construction costs.

“We do think we’re going to be in a kind of advantageous and unique situation where we can have a levy neutral, if you would, time when we could be able to build a new facility not adding any levy onto what we already have,” Bentzinger said. “Right now, interest rates are advantageous and so is the construction industry.”

Skretta said Norris adminstrators and school board members will conduct a thorough public information campaign over the next few weeks.

“We want to make sure everyone knows about it,” Skretta said. “The last thing I want to say is ‘they didn’t have enough information to make an informed choice.’”

“We want to promote information and public awareness and hear from people to address suggestions and concerns,” he added.

Skretta said Norris is proud of the work they have done thus far in planning the project and believes voters will take a

“This merits their strong consideration because there is a lot of work that goes into putting this in front of people,” he said.

Bentzinger said the board and administrators have been proactive in releasing information about the bond issue.

“The people who have talked to me about it — and we have put out a fair amount of information about it — have been quite positive saying we know what the school needs and the crowding is evident,” Bentzinger said. “This is a needs-based thing, not a want at this point of time and I think people in our area recognize that.”

A citizens’ committee met Monday evening at Norris, Bentzinger said, and indicated members of the community also see the need for an intermediate building.

Still, Norris plans to move forward with a heavy public information campaign to reach voters in the district “in multiple ways.”

Seven meetings have been scheduled in late January through February to discuss the bond issue prior to the March vote.

“We think that transparency is key,” Bentzinger said. “We want a well-informed constituency. We really encourage people to come forward and ask questions and hopefully get the answers they need.”

Bentzinger said Norris is a unique district in that the school is not based in any of the several towns it serves.

“We’re not centered in a town but we are a community,” she said. “I think we’ve always had wonderful parent support and we hope to see that in this bond election.

Find out more

Norris Public Schools has planned a series of informational meetings surrounding a $14 million bond election that will take place in March. The meeting schedule includes:

Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m., Firth Community Center.

Feb. 12, 7 p.m., Hickman Town Hall.

Feb. 16, 7 p.m., Norris High School Auditorium.

Feb. 19, 7 p.m., Cortland Community Center.

Feb. 20, 7 p.m., Roca Town Hall.

Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Panama Presbyterian Church.

March 6, 7 p.m., Norris High School Auditorium.

Norris is also hosting school tours of facilities on Monday, Feb. 6, 13, 27 and Tuesday, Feb. 21. Each tour begins at 9 a.m.

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