LINCOLN—Voters in the Norris Public Schools district approved a $14 million bond issue for construction of a new 3-5 intermediate elementary facility and upgrades to the high school building in a special mail-in bond election Tuesday.
According to the Lancaster County Election Commission, 1,967 – or approximately 63.5 percent of voters – approved the bonds while 1,133, or 36.6 percent were opposed.
The special mail-in election had a 48.7 percent turnout – 3,111 of 6,379 registered voters returned ballots to the election commission’s office by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Superintendent Dr. John Skretta thanked the Board of Education, the Norris teachers and staff and the patrons of the district for “their trust and a shared vision for providing space for” Norris Elementary students.
“The margin and the outcome reflect the fact that the space needs are pretty self-evident,” Skretta said. “We’re really fortunate to have an involved and knowledgeable constituency. They know the space needs are clear and it makes a great deal of sense at this time.”
Norris Board of Education President Patti Bentzinger said the results were “just what we were hoping for.”
“It was an extremely high voter turnout – you never know how things are going to go with this new mail-in system,” Bentzinger said. “But I guess the message must have gotten to the people and our district has always done a good job of recognizing the needs for kids, so I’m delighted.”
Norris board members and administrators conducted an extensive information campaign as well as hosted tours of the elementary facilities for voters to see the elementary building’s deficiencies.
“The main thing we started out to do was communicate the reasons why we need this building and the upgrade in the high school and be transparent with what we want to do.,” Bentzinger said. “There’s nothing hidden, you want everyone to have the best information possible and I think we succeeded in that.”
The bond issue was the result of growing student enrollment at Norris, Skretta explained throughout an informational campaign in February and March.
In 2008, Norris conducted a study of its current kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary facility, finding the current building on the northeast edge of the Norris campus would reach its maximum capacity at 800 students.
This year, 780 students were enrolled at Norris Elementary, forcing the district to find new classroom space in the building.
The growth of the district has also moved the preschool out of the elementary building and into the north end of Norris High School.
Rooms in the north wing of the high school building, housing band, agriculture and industrial tech, were also in need of additional space, the district said.
Having the ability to capitalize on low-interest bonds, competitive construction contracts and “perfect timing” with regards to Norris’ bond levy were also factors Skretta said Norris believes played a part in the successful bond election.
Currently, Norris district patrons owning a $100,000 home would expect to pay $180 in property taxes each year to pay for the school.
Furthermore, Skretta called the mail election an “x-factor.”
“In our previous bond elections, we had polling places,” Skretta said. “So there was some speculation about how that might affect the outcome. I think it really validates the notion that a direct mail method of election makes voter participation more convenient and provides means for more voters to participate, which is a good thing.”
Norris will move quickly on the building’s construction. Skretta said the district hopes to solicit construction bids within 2-3 days of the election results becoming final.
“Now the real work begins,” Skretta said. “We get the opportunity and we have the responsibility of toiling tirelessly in working with our partners at DLR and Hausmann Construction so we carry things out based upon the vision and design that has been collaboratively developed.”
With much of the preliminary work completed, Skretta said Norris patrons could see “substantial progress” on the building this spring.
Bentzinger said she is excited for the future at Norris.
“It’s exciting to be moving on to another project and I think we’re all ready to get going with it,” she said.