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Berkeley Co. voters OK school project bonds

September 26, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Berkeley County voters on Saturday voted overwhelmingly in favor of the county school district's taxpayer-financed $96.5 million building plan, which includes a fourth high school, a new middle school and two other projects.

With all 66 precincts reporting, 4,527 voters (63.6 percent) voted in favor of authorizing the school board to issue $51.5 million in bonds for four projects, and 2,589 (36.3 percent) voted against the issue, according to unofficial results released Saturday night by County Clerk John W. Small Jr.

The tally of votes cast by 11.9 percent of the county's 59,744 registered voters does not include provisional and absentee ballots, which are scheduled to be reviewed in a canvassing of the vote on Friday.

Only eight precincts voted to defeat the bond issue and others narrowly approved it, according to unofficial results.

By authorizing the bond issue, the owner of a home with an appraised value of $200,000 would see a net increase of $69.35 on their residential (Class II) property tax bills in 2010, school officials have said.

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With the voter-approved bond issue in hand, the school district will receive $25 million from the West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA) for the new high school, which would be built in Spring Mills in northern Berkeley County.

"There isn't any reason why we can't be doing site work down there at the end of the summer (of 2010)," Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon II said.

The SBA money for the high school will made available by the state in July, Arvon said.

"The high school will be a priority," Queen said of enrollments of about 1,700 at Hedgesville (W.Va.) High School and about 1,800 at Martinsburg High School.

Another $20 million in SBA grants for the remaining projects in the bond issue proposal are expected, but not guaranteed, and school officials will have to make annual requests for the money.

"If we go down there without dollars, it wouldn't be a given that they would give us the money, but I feel real good about that now," Board of Education President William F. "Bill" Queen said after the outcome of the vote.

The projects to follow the high school construction are a new middle school on district-owned land near Gerrardstown, W.Va., a major addition at Musselman High School in Inwood, W.Va., and a major renovation and expansion at Martinsburg North Middle School.

"I am overwhelmed with pride with the community support we receive here in Berkeley County," Arvon said.

Arvon said the support of the school district's business partners and the endorsements received by major organizations in the community was key to "a team effort."

Queen said school officials probably would build the new middle school at the district's Mountain Ridge education campus near Gerrardstown.

Queen was heartened by the community's support in the vote.

"These folks have stepped up again as they have so many times in the past," Queen said. "They've just never let us down. Fourteen years I've been on this board and the community has never let us down once. They've been behind us the whole time. I've got to thank the community. It's just unbelievable, unbelievable."

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