The request is different, but the opposition could remain the same when the School District of Jefferson next month asks a third time for high school construction money.
“So many people are out of work and can’t afford to make house payments or even pay for groceries,” said town of Jefferson resident Nancy Emons. “This is a tightknit community that wants to be supportive of its school and team, but it’s an unbelievably difficult time for anyone right now.”
Voters in April 2008 rejected a referendum to build a $49.5 million high school to replace the existing building. The district’s Board of Education responded with a referendum in November 2008 seeking $37.9 million for a high school addition and renovation. That referendum failed.
The cost now has dropped to $35.2 million, and the district could take advantage of $10 million in no-interest bonds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, said Scott Buth, School Board clerk and deputy treasurer.
“This is the lowest cost opportunity voters will have,” he said. “And I think of all three referendums, this has the most enthusiasm behind it.”
Yet there still is a harsh financial reality for people who live in the area, Emons said. Milwaukee-based Briggs & Stratton last year announced it would close its Watertown and Jefferson factories, eliminating more than 500 jobs in Jefferson County.
On top of that, Emons said, many local shops have closed since the last referendum failed.
“There are a lot of skeptics out there, and I’m one of them,” she said. “I will vote no, but it’s not about the dollars out of my pocket. It’s about the people that are struggling and retired out here, living alone without spouses and pensions that have failed to keep up with inflation.”
But the project has support. David Endl, a city of Jefferson resident, said he will vote for the referendum because the work is needed.
“We spend all this time talking about getting people back to work, and this is the kind of project that could help that,” he said. “I understand concerns about the burden, and a project like this is always going to put a burden on some taxpayers.”
Buth said the work is needed not only to repair mechanical systems but for new and expanded classroom space for science and special education.
Emons said she knows the construction industry needs work and a $35.2 million project offers plenty of opportunities, but taxpayers cannot afford the investment.
“Looking around right now,” she said, “this is a very depressed area.”