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11/8/2017 12:55:00 PM
Voters lean toward accepting Hobart schools referendum questions

Carole Carlson, Post-Tribune

Hobart voters appeared to favor a pair of school referendum questions calling for construction of a new elementary school, a swimming pool at Hobart High and a measure to stabilize declining funds according to unofficial vote totals, officials said.

Both questions garnered approximately 68 percent of the vote in favor of their approval, according to unofficial vote totals.

"We're happy with the results; we thought the people of Hobart would support the schools," said school board president Terry Butler, who said a series of public forums at every school helped answer questions.

Supporters of the referendum questions, who formed a political action committee to raise money, campaigned on their behalf with gold and purple "Yes 4 Hobart Schools" signs across the city. They celebrated Tuesday night in downtown Hobart.

Superintendent Peggy Buffington praised supporters.

"The PAC hit the ground running and was active in social media. It's about the kids. This is what we do here. We take care of the Brickies," she said.

A $41.2 million capital improvements plan includes construction of an elementary school at the former Mundell school site at 52 N. Wisconsin St. and an Olympic-size swimming pool at Hobart High School. Renovation projects also will be done at the district's other schools.

Backers predict the operating referendum will raise $2 million a year to supplant anticipated tax losses in 2020 when property tax caps take full hold in Lake County. It calls for $2 million a year over an eight-year period, although school officials have said they won't start levying for it until 2020.

School officials promised the referendum questions wouldn't impact tax bills because the district refinanced its high school debt and has been fiscally responsible in taking on new debt.

"Hobart plans ahead, and this is just something that has to be done for the future," said Jennifer Niksich after she cast a "yes" vote at the Abundant Life Tabernacle, the former Hobart Elks Lodge.

Niksich said new schools attract new residents. "We moved here in 2004 because of the school," she said of the then new Joan Martin Elementary.

Plans call for Ridge View Elementary, built in 1959 at 3333 W. Ridge Road, to close after the new elementary school opens. Buffington said the district will retain ownership of the Head Start programs or adult education courses in the building.

The new elementary school will alleviate overcrowding at Joan Martin Elementary. Ridge View students, along with 200 students who live in the Mundell area, will attend the new school, according to the school district's plans. The original Mundell school was demolished in 1994.

The state rejected the district's plans for a swimming pool at its $62.5 million high school, which opened in 2009. The move left swim team members driving across the city to the Hobart Middle School for practices twice a day. School officials said the new pool would be open to the community.

The proposed 70,000-square-foot new school would have a capacity for about 550 students and could open in the 2020-21 school year. Buffington said the high school swimming pool would be ready by the 2019-20 school year.

Related Stories:
• Hammond voters appear to favor $110.6 million school capital improvement plans
• 'Doing nothing not an option:' West Clark schools voters reject $95 million referendum
• Nearly 70 percent vote against $95 million referendum for West Clark schools
• 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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