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11/8/2017 12:50:00 PM
Hammond voters appear to favor $110.6 million school capital improvement plans

Meredith Colias, Post-Tribune

Voters in Hammond appear to have approved property tax hikes to pay for a new high school and boost the school district's budget, according to unofficial vote totals.

The proposed $110.6 million capital referendum question would fund a 417,000-square-foot building replacing Hammond High School — combining students from Hammond High and Eggers Middle School — and construction projects at nearly all of the city's other public schools.

More than 55 percent of Hammond voters favored the capital referendum question in unofficial tallies.

According to the Lake County Voter Registration website, more than 6,700 Hammond voters went to the polls Tuesday.

Outside Hammond High on Tuesday, Carolyn Elmore, 65, said she supported the referendum question for the new building. Her two sons graduated from the school, she said.

"They really deserve to have something modern, updated," she said. "I feel like I can make the sacrifice."

For years, the nearly century-old high school continued to have significant code and safety issues to address, Buildings and Grounds Director James Burggraf told the school board earlier this year.

Those included dead-end corridors, the lack of a buildingwide fire sprinkler system, outdated fire and electrical system, disability compliance, leaking roof, air-quality issues and aging building materials likely containing lead paint, mercury and asbestos. The school's pool was shut down five years ago from lack of maintenance, he said.

A second $70 million budget referendum question was favored by more than 53 percent of voters and also appeared headed for approval Tuesday, according to unofficial vote totals. It would fund teachers, staff and educational programs.

District officials had warned that up to 60 teachers, multiple administrators, support staff, programs, technology spending and its transportation department would face cuts if that referendum failed.

Outside of Morton High School in the city's Hessville section, Pam and Steven Petho said they both voted against each referendum question.

Pam, 53, questioned both the feasibility of building a new high school in the East Hammond neighborhood, across from City Hall, and the wisdom of combining students from Eggers and Hammond High, she said.

Steven, 55, said concerns about the property tax increase while living on a fixed income led him to vote no.

"It's like giving them a blank check," he said. "You can't rob Peter to pay Paul and it seems like this is all they are doing."

On Monday, Mayor Tom McDermott posted on Twitter he voted for the referendums. Previously, the City Council declined to take a position.

Superintendent Walter Watkins said in a voicemail that he was pleased that voters opted to support the referendum.

"I think that the people in the community who believed in the future of Hammond ... so that we can give our students the best that we can," said School Board President Deborah White.

On Tuesday, schools were closed and staff were given the day off. White said schools were closed as a safety precaution for children.

Many staffers chose to go to the polls. School City of Hammond employees volunteered to canvass for hours outside several polling stations. Many also posted pictures on social media encouraging others to vote yes.

In brisk, 40-plus degree weather, staffers from the Hammond Area Career Center University stood outside the Jean Shepherd Community Center in Hessville early on Tuesday carrying "Yes" signs.

Related Stories:
• 'Doing nothing not an option:' West Clark schools voters reject $95 million referendum
• Hammond schools looks to voters to borrow $110 million for new construction
• Hammond voters to decide on new high school, budget referendums Tuesday
• Nearly 70 percent vote against $95 million referendum for West Clark schools
• Voters lean toward accepting Hobart schools referendum questions
• Records show average of 14 percent of voters voted in Hammond, Hobart referendum vote

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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