Property owners in the city will see an increase on their taxes this year after the Bowling Green Independent Board of Education approved a rate hike Monday, during which it also approved phase two renovations on Bowling Green High School.
Facing several state-mandated school safety upgrades – and uncertainty about how it will pay for them – the Bowling Green Independent School District school board unanimously OK’d a rate hike to 84.5 cents from 82.8 cents per every $100 of real and personal property. The automobile tax rate was set at 60.2 cents per $100.
“I think as a board we do try to watch the dollars that are spent and the dollars that we tax,” board member Mike Bishop said in response to one public speaker critical of the rate hike.
Addressing new school safety legislation passed earlier this year, Bishop said: “We’ve had to do so much more for our students in regard to providing mental health services. It’s just not all locks and cameras, we’re trying to address the problem at its beginning stages.”
Only one speaker signed up at the meeting to participate in a 30-minute public comment hearing. Paul Allison, who said he resided in the district, said he didn’t see a need for a rate increase given the growth in property assessment value the district is seeing. He pushed back on comparisons made to other independent school districts, such as Glasgow and Owensboro, which have higher rates.
“Those areas are not growing. Bowling Green is a very hot growth area in the state of Kentucky. That’s why we are fortunate to have a lower rate,” he said.
Under the new 84.5-cent rate, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $1,690. That would be an increase of $34 over the previous 82.8-cent rate.
Bowling Green schools Superintendent Gary Fields has said the district needs additional revenue to implement several school safety improvements related to this year’s Senate Bill 1.
Lawmakers have said they’ll set aside money for implementing the changes while drafting a state budget next year, but Fields has said his district doesn’t want to be caught off guard if that doesn’t ultimately happen or if funding levels aren’t sufficient.
“We have these expenses now, and we have to be able to cover those expenses,” he previously told the Daily News.
None of the additional revenue from the rate hike will go toward renovations at Bowling Green High School, Fields has said. In 2017, the district’s school board approved a 5.4-cent increase to help fund the first stage of renovations for its high school, which brought the rate to its previous 82.8 cents.
During the board’s meeting Monday, it moved to authorize phase two renovations for the high school, which includes a plan to replace the high school’s pool.
The board approved both schematic designs and plans to finance the project’s second phase, with the plan being to complete renovations by August 2023.
During the first phase of renovations, workers have been moving to complete a 90,000 square foot addition, extending around the school’s existing natatorium, that includes most of the school’s classroom space, extracurricular classroom space and a kitchen.
The plan is to build the new school around the existing pool and eventually demolish it and replace it at another location, turning the space into a courtyard.
Phase one is slated to be complete by June 2020. According to an updated construction timeline shared by the school district, the first portion of phase two will begin June 2020 and include the demolition of the current pool, the construction of a theater with seating for 700 and auxiliary gym and construction of a new pool.
That first portion of phase two, dubbed “2A,” is slated to be complete by October 2021. The board authorized $24 million for that project and will work with Ross Tarrant as its architect.
After the meeting, Fields promised the pool would return, albeit in a different form. Its recognizable dome isn’t in the plans for replacement.
“Many in our community were concerned about the dome that is iconic with Bowling Green High School. We will not be putting back a dome … but we will have a swimming pool as part of phase 2A.”
The district is planning for a period during which the high school will be without a pool entirely.
“We’re still working through the logistics of when this will happen, but it will probably be between early fall of 2020 and late fall of 2021 where we probably will not have access to a pool,” Fields said. “And so we’re going to work with the local community to make sure that our student-athletes have access to a pool at that time.”
The goal is to only miss one season of swimming at the high school and start again in 2021.
The second portion of phase two is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2021. It will include the demolition of the current main Bowling Green High School building and the addition of a student commons, a library media center, additional classrooms, a student medical clinic, a guidance and youth services center and administrative office.
Overall, Fields was optimistic about progress on the renovations.
“This is occurring, at a minimum, five years probably before any of us thought this was possible,” Fields said. “The sooner we get it complete, the sooner our kids can enjoy it.”