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Brenna Faletti, a junior at Hall High School who sprained her ankle during Monday's game, is helped down the school’s stairs by Kaylee Golden (center) as she navigates the building to her next class Wednesday, An architect’s analysis this year found the school building has 31 different levels, due to additions built in the school’s 98 years. Making the school accessible for people with disabilities is one reason the district faces a choice of making about $18 million in renovations or building a $32-million school.
Hall High School’s administration, board of education and supporters have their eye on a new building. But with a $32-million price tag, they’re going to need more help to make it happen. On Wednesday, a steering committee will meet for the first time to discuss efforts to promote a referendum for the April ballot seeking a tax increase from property owners in the district. School board members are not allowed to advocate for a referendum during a board meeting, and the district is not allowed to use resources such as the school copy machine to print flyers, or other time and resources for a PowerPoint presentation, superintendent Mike Stuna said. “Typically, it’s a community effort, a community movement, and so I don’t expect any board members to be on the steering committee,” he said. “They’ll have to plan the campaign, as far as our theme, publicity, fundraising, all the things that go into a referendum campaign.” Sandy Galetti, president of Hall Education Foundation, has so far attended two meetings and expects to see more than 20 people at the Dec. 5 meeting, including representatives from the district’s feeder schools and members of the community. Galetti has seen sketches of the proposed new building, and knows many of the troubles that make the cost of renovating the current school rise to $18 million. “There are repairs that need to be done, for life safety – there are so many things that are needed, really,” Galetti said. If the district does make the significant renovations necessary to bring the building up to code, it would likely be required to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Struna said.. That would be a major project in itself: An architect’s analysis found there are actually 31 different levels throughout the four-story building, which actually includes two buildings that originally were separated, and several additions. Adding elevators to transport students unable to climb stairs would be a logistic and financial challenge. Also at issue is the school’s heating system — actually, three separate systems that use steam, hot water and forced air. As the board of education toured the boiler room earlier this year, head of maintenance Bob Hanck described the system as “complex” and said it’s “a constant struggle” to keep up with maintenance on the system, and to keep classroom temperature regulated. Because the district has applied for a state grant, Struna hopes the community won’t be on the hook for the total cost of the building. But that funding is unlikely to come before the spring referendum, or even before the district wants to start construction. Spring Valley Elementary, for example, just received in 2012 grant funding the district had applied for in 2003. “Our long-term hope is… 10 or 15 years from now, we could get money to help pay off what remains of the loan,” Struna said. “It’s hard to predict how long you have to be on that waiting list,” Struna said. At previous meetings, attendees considered putting the referendum on this spring’s ballot, or holding it for the following election. Struna said there is concern about having the referendum on the same ballot as a fire department referendum, seeking additional funding to purchase a new truck. If the referendum passes this spring, the new building could be available for use by August of 2014. “There’s no funding options for us, other than borrowing money, and so in order to borrow money, there has to be a referendum. The other option might be $18 million in renovation, and the board has been adamant about not heading down that path,” Struna said. The board could borrow part of the $18 million for health and safety renovations without voter approval, while other repairs could not be funded without a second referendum. “We have roof repairing. We need to become handicap accessible, which includes elevators,” Struna said. “Once you do major renovations, you become (responsible for more recent) codes, so we might be talking about new sprinklers.” “The way I look at it,” he continued, “we’re talking about a difference of $14 million. We’re actually asking the taxpayers to approve $14 million, because we’re going to have to get $18 million anyway.” - There is one more step required before the district can even field a referendum, however. Struna said he is counting on state Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) to submit as a bill in the Legislature a waiver to let the district borrow more than its $8 million debt limit, and pay that back over 25 years, instead of 20. “If that doesn’t happen, there’s no referendum for us to run,” he said.