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story.lead_photo.caption Josh Young brought his daughters Isla, 4, at right, and Emma, 1, to Blair Oaks High School as he cast his ballot in Tuesday's election. Voters from Blair Oaks, Jefferson City and Eugene school districts all vote at this location. Blair Oaks district patrons had a school board seat on the ballot as well as issues to build and operate a new high school. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

A large majority of voters in the Blair Oaks R-2 school district decided Tuesday that they approve of the plan for a new high school, along with an operating levy increase to pay for the building's staff and other costs.

Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said Tuesday night he was "extremely excited about the results."

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"I think it's a win-win" for the district's schools, students, grandparents, and other patrons and stakeholders, Jones said.

"This is fantastic. We did a good job of getting the word out," said Peggy Luebbert, president of the Blair Oaks Board of Education.

The board asked voters through two ballot propositions Tuesday whether it should issue $14 million of bonds to pay for the construction of the first phase of a new high school across from the current Blair Oaks Middle School on Falcon Lane, and whether to increase the district's operating tax levy by 30 cents per $100 of assessed valuation in order to pay for a new high school's staff, maintenance, educational programs and utilities.

Voters approved the bond issue proposition with 77.69 percent of the vote and approved the operating levy proposition with 69.98 percent of the vote.

Jones said the work to get to this moment has been a years-long process.

"We've patiently been waiting on bonding capacity to get us to a level where we could build something of significance that could make a difference in the entire district," he said.

"I think the informational meetings worked great, but I also think having it on the (district) website was great," Luebbert said of what approaches of presenting the ballot issues to the community worked best. She also credited media coverage, though she added that "all the different ways that the bond issue was presented to the community" helped.

Jones said the next step will be to start conversations with The Architects Alliance and engineers, as well as continuing meetings with faculty and staff.

The district is tentatively looking at a timeline of a bid for the high school project in the fall and potentially a groundbreaking by the end of 2019, he said. The timeline, "though aggressive," is in alignment with other recent bond issue projects in 2005 and 2007 for Falcon Athletic Complex and Blair Oaks Middle School, he added.

Approval of the $14 million bond issue will not affect the district's debt service levy, which will remain at $1.21 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The debt service levy does not need to increase to pay for a new high school because the school board already approved a 30-cent increase from 91 cents to $1.21 last August.

The increase of the district's operating levy that voters approved Tuesday will put that tax levy at $3.05 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The district estimates a new high school will cost $19 million in total to build. The first $14 million phase of construction is anticipated to open in August 2021. Collecting the increased operating levy sooner than that is projected to be easier on the district's finances by giving the flexibility to add staff over time.

The second phase of the high school is anticipated to open in August 2025, if voters approve a second bond issue in April 2023 — again without any increase to the district's debt-service levy.

The first phase will include the school's auditorium, gym, library and cafeteria, as well as enough classrooms for grades 9-12, though some students may be temporary classrooms in the gym's planned mezzanine level.

It's not known what exactly $14 million will be enough to cover, but district officials hope to include rooms for art, band and choir that could be bid out as alternates, meaning they will be built as part of phase one if funds are available. Jones said Tuesday it all depends on how aggressive the project bids are.

The formula for calculating taxes on real estate or personal property is the value, multiplied by the assessor's rate, divided by 100 then multiplied by the tax levy rate.

With the approval of the operating levy increase, owners of $200,000 value homes in the district will pay $1,618.80 in property taxes for the school district in December — $114 more than the $1,504.80 they paid in 2018.

More than 73 percent of absentee voters in the district supported the bond issue Proposition 3, and more than 70 percent of absentee voters supported the operating levy increase Proposition 4.

"We invested in our future," Luebbert said. "This is a win for the kids, school district and community."

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