ST. JOHN | Lake Central School Corp. breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday as St. John Township residents passed a referendum calling for the rebuilding of Lake Central High and Protsman Elementary schools.
The victory is the culmination of years of discussion about growing enrollment, overcrowding and aging facilities. On Tuesday, the community embraced a common, unified and $160 million vision. Overall margins were projected to be 55-45 in favor of the plan.
"We are thrilled and extremely grateful to the voters," Superintendent Larry Veracco said. "We'll be diligent in the way we spend taxpayer dollars and make sure we get the best value for the money.
"The key was listening to what they didn't like last time and offering them a plan when done that will make our high school feel similar to what Crown Point, Valparaiso and Chesterton have."
In a special June 2009 election, residents rejected a $95 million referendum proposal to renovate and expand the high school. The plan was shot down by a 59-41 percent margin.
In the aftermath of the defeat, the school district developed a districtwide master plan that included the needs of all facilities. School officials went through a lengthy planning process that included input from the community at large.
"The key was having a campaign that shared information with people and gave them the opportunity to ask questions," Veracco said. "Calling people on the phone and knocking on doors was the most rewarding part of this because I heard how hard our teachers and staff work to help our kids succeed."
School Board President George Baranowski said the community pulled together and realized students need a 21st century learning environment.
"We feel we were justified in our efforts and have a mandate from the community to go forward," he said.
School officials said they encountered a groundswell of support as they canvassed the communities over the last several months but still were cautiously optimistic as the election drew near.
"This time we were better organized and had a better message," Baranowski said. "And we listened to the public about what they wanted to see in our facilities."
Vice President Howard Marshall, a board member since 1985, said he felt good about the prospects of the referendum's passage but admitted he had a nervous tension on the eve of the election.
"I'm taking a big deep breath with a big smile on my face ... after all, the kids will be the beneficiaries," he said.
"Now we get down to business. We've got an administrative staff that has worked its tail off for the needs of our community. Now we'll work with them hand in hand and move forward."