Big win in Indian Creek

Of all of the results from Tuesday’s election, the one that will likely have the biggest impact on our area was the decision of voters in the Indian Creek Local School District to pass their bond issue.

Because the 6.1-mill issue passed, the district will be able to generate $45.7 million during the next 37 years, which will allow it to leverage $18 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission. The new high school in Wintersville, the new elementary school at Bantam Ridge and the renovations that are coming to Hills Elementary in Mingo Junction will improve the educational experience for students for many years to come.

That’s one of the reasons Tuesday’s totals, which showed 3,141 voters in favor of the bond issue and 2,752 against, were a relief to Superintendent T.C. Chappelear.

“Absolutely — it’s a weight off of our shoulders,” Chappelear said. “It means that we will be able to move forward. We’re going to be able to take care of facility issues and not have to dip into the general fund. We won’t have to put money into facilities that are old and failing.”

While the quality of education in the district has never been an issue, the status of its buildings has been. The current Indian Creek High School was built in the early 1950s and administrators have had to conduct classes in portable classrooms since the early 1970s. The building that’s now Wintersville Elementary opened as Buchanan Junior High School in the 1960s. And Hills, which opened 50 years ago or so, has been showing its age.

Even with the problems that come with aging buildings — increasing maintenance costs, for example, and difficulties encountered when trying to retrofit facilities that were built in an age when rotary phones were the communications standard to accommodate modern technologies — bond issues and levies have been a tough sale in the district.

That included last November, when a similar issue failed with 3,084 voters saying no and 2,918 saying yes. It was not a problem this time.

“I really wasn’t surprised the issue passed,” Chappelear said. “You’re always nervous, but here was a different vibe. The parents and members of our community were so energized about it. I would have been surprised if it had failed.”

Voter turnout in non-presidential primaries is always low, and Tuesday’s turnout in Jefferson County of 26 percent was below the 28 percent officials with the board of elections had predicted. That wasn’t the case among voters who live in Indian Creek. Officials said 42.5 percent of the 13,964 registered voters in the district cast ballots. In November, turnout in Indian Creek was 43.8 percent of 13,881 then-registered voters when the number for the county was 37 percent.

“It was a hotly contested issue,” Chappelear said. “It showed there were a lot of people who felt motivated to get out, especially in the primary.”

He said finding the support for the issue was a result of hard work on the part of a lot of people.

“We did a good job of showing people our facilities and letting them know what’s going on,” he said. “We laid it all out there and showed people what we are dealing with. A lot of parents said enough is enough — and that they wanted the best facilities for their kids. Plus, people didn’t want to see us lose the matching money. And, there was an amazing team effort by the levy committee to make it happen.”

Indian Creek was among the 63 school tax issues that were approved Tuesday, according to the Ohio School Boards Association. The organization said 23 of 46 new school tax issues passed, as did 40 of 46 renewals.

“It’s good to see that so many citizens realize just how valuable their public schools are and voted to support them,” said Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services for the association.

The new schools and renovations have been a long time coming, as was pointed out by Wintersville Mayor Bob Gale, whose village will be the home of a new high school in the near future.

“I’m very pleased that the levy passed after all these years,” said the early 1980s graduate of what was then called Wintersville High School.

“It was long overdue for the school to be replaced.”

Chappelear said it will take about three years for all of the construction work to be completed. He said proposals need to go out and meetings will be conducted with residents of the district to get their input before final plans are made. It’s about a three-year process, he explained — one year for planning and two years for construction.

“It will be a good thing for the children who are coming up and for the community as a whole,” Gale said. “It’s a plus for everybody — a plus for the Valley.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)