MT. VERNON – To local business owner Jeff Haarmann, Wednesday's special meeting of the Mt. Vernon Township High School Board of Education shed some much-needed light on the district's controversial new school project.
The key now, he said, is for school officials to manage the project as best they can to keep costs in line. Haarmann is the managing partner of Affordable Gas & Electric Company.
“This kind of thing is absolutely important because it gives public input into the whole process,” Haarmann said of Wednesday's meeting. “That's what it's really all about.”
Haarmann was one of about 50 people to attend the special forum, which MVTHS hosted for members of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.
The two-hour meeting included a presentation by the school district's financial adviser, Tim King, on the use of bonds to pay for the project. Chief Architect Greg Brown also spoke at length about the design of the new school and why certain decisions were made.
Throughout the meeting, audience members asked tough questions about how the project came to its current state.
The MVTHS Board decided to hold the forum after the Chamber in late June sent a letter to its membership questioning the new price tag of the project.
“We knew we needed to do something,” said MVTHS Board President Carl Miller. He added that Wednesday's meeting proved to be productive. “It was good to have a forum where people could ask their questions and get an answer.”
One of the main sticking points for critics is how the project's estimated cost increased from roughly $62 million to $72.8 million. About $48 million of the total cost will come from the state and $27.7 million will be the local share.
At the time of the bond referendum in 2011, voters were asked to approve the issuance of $19.8 million in bonds for the school. Now, the school is looking into an additional $4 million in premium bonds.