By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON — — The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to its membership questioning the new price tag of the new high school.
"We are still in support the plans and facts that we were given in 20011," the letter states. "A new school costing the local taxpayers exactly $19.8 million."
In 2011, when the bond referendum was posed to voters asking for $19.8 million in bonds for the new high school, the Chamber came out in support of the issue.
"Your chamber leadership did a lot of research, a lot of questions were asked of the school board, the superintendent, representatives from associations related to construction, development, architecture, etc.," the letter states. "Only after careful review of all the facts given to us, we decided to support the new school project based on the design, drawings and renderings and financial information for a $62 million school, with $19.8 million coming from the local community, the rest in the form of a Capital Development Board new school construction grant."
The chamber states plans for the high school are "quite different" from the designs and pictures presented in 2011, and "the price tag is completely different than the price tag we were given." The chamber states it relies on the school board to make decisions which impact the school itself.
The letter states when changes were made by the school board and school administrators, members of the chamber began vocalizing their concerns and attended school board and committee meetings.
"We have read our letters of concerns to the school board along the way, and we have sent feedback to the school board about our concern of the dramatic changes of the plans and the financing of the new school," the letter states. "We still support having a new school to be proud of, to help us recruit, attract, retain businesses here in Jefferson County, boost the student test scores, produce young men and women ready to head to college, join the workforce and become productive, successful members of society."
However, the Chamber says the new plans do not cost local taxpayers the same amount.
"The Mt. Vernon Township High School Board of Education and the superintendent presently have on the table a new and much different high school plan with a price tag of roughly $72 million, with $48 million coming from the state," the letter states. "The high school board has the capability to sell those $19.8 million bonds that voters approved at a premium, resulting in higher burden on taxpayers (roughly $24 to $25 million) if they cannot secure the difference by way of donations, building and land sales, and other plans to raise the funds.
"The CDB approved up to $72 million for a new school, and your school board is planning to build just that, a $72 million plan out for bid currently. This price tag does not include demolition of the existing buildings, moving, furnishings, and a host of other significant expenses that will be incurred.
"How exactly we will be paying for this school plan is still up in the air and the school board has not given any indication about this until bids come in. Once bids come in, if they are too high, the school board and architects plan is to start cutting from this new plan to reduce costs."