NORMAN — Voters in the Norman school district Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a historic $126 million bond package to fund improvements throughout the school system, including construction of collegiate centers and freshman academies at the city's two high schools and safe rooms at six schools, including both high schools.
The bond package, divided into two propositions, is the largest in the history of the school district but will not raise property taxes because previous bond packages have been paid off, said Superintendent Joe Siano.
Proposition 1 for $122.5 million passed with 83.9 percent of the vote, well above the 60 percent required for passage. It calls for sweeping improvements at both Norman North and Norman High School, security improvements at other schools, maintenance throughout the system and technological advances at every school.
Proposition 2 for $3.5 million also passed with 84.1 percent of the vote and will be used to buy new buses “as needed” throughout the district.
“On behalf of the board, and especially on behalf of the students, I want to thank the community for stepping up and supporting the schools,” Siano said. “This shows the people in this community value their kids and value education. We're really pleased with the results.”
Siano said the district will begin immediately consulting with architects, contractors, technology experts and other professionals to decide how to group the projects in the most efficient and cost-effective way. All projects are to be completed in three years, he said.
Under the $122.5 million proposition, each high school will get about $24 million to redesign classroom space, adding freshman academies and collegiate centers. Included in the redesigns will be safe rooms and secure entryways.
The school district's last bond proposal, which passed in 2009, focused on improvements to elementary and middle schools, strengthening or adding secure entryways to all but seven of them.
With this bond package, Siano said, secure entryways will be built at the seven remaining schools, and safe rooms will be added to four schools. Besides the two high schools, safe rooms will be built at Irving Middle School, Whittier Middle School, Lincoln Elementary School and Reagan Elementary School.
About a third of Norman's schools already have safe rooms or below ground structures to withstand strong winds, said Shelly Hickman, the school's communications director. An example is the band room at Alcott Middle School, which is below ground level, she said.
School board members adopted a policy as far back as 2006 that safe rooms would be built any time there was new construction, Hickman said.
At the high schools, new freshman academies will help middle school students make a smooth transition into high school and lay the groundwork for them to have a successful high school career, Siano said.
At the other end of the spectrum are juniors and seniors who need help getting ready for life after high school, whether that means college, a technology school or entering the workforce, he said.
Bond money also will be used to address maintenance needs such a new roofs, lighting and flooring, as well as improvements to athletic facilities and fields.
Norman's enrollment for the current school year stands at about 15,600, an increase of about 425 students from the year before. Historically, enrollment grows annually in a range between 150 to 450 students, Siano said.
“We have a commitment to all kids, no matter what school they are attending, to ensure they have equal access to the tools they need that will make them successful,” Siano said.
Improvements are spread throughout the system to address the needs of all and not just a few, he said.