LAUREL, Neb. — Laurel-Concord/Coleridge school officials will tell you: “Every vote counts” isn’t just a slogan.
With last week’s bond issue passing by a single vote, the Laurel-Concord/Coleridge (LCC) school district is launching a $25 million construction and remodeling project at its Laurel campus.
LCC voters passed the July 13 bond issue by a 596-595 vote, with the figures remaining the same after a recount. The all-mail election drew 65% voter turnout and required a simple majority for passage.
“I think that this election result speaks volumes in regard to our democratic process and the influence and significance of a single vote!” Superintendent Jeremy Christiansen told the Press & Dakotan.
The project will fund renovations at the elementary school and new construction for the high school, both in Laurel. The district also operates a middle school in Coleridge. The “Public School Review” lists the district with 485 students this year in grades pre-kindergarten through high school.
The one-vote passage came after voters rejected a $23 million bond issue last November by 50 votes. The school board changed the proposal before resubmitting it to voters last week.
The cost of the project has risen $2 million because of changes since the November election, Christiansen said.
“The increase in project budget (this time) was due to several factors, including escalating construction material and labor costs, as well as changes in interest rates,” the superintendent said.
While the project’s cost has increased, the bond issue is smaller this time, Christiansen said. The funding includes the $18.5 million bond issue along with a $6.8 million lease/purchase option for the elementary renovation and new construction portion of the project.
On its Facebook page, the school district used the theme “Building For The Future” in its information posts. The district posted a comment after last week’s election results were certified as official.
“We appreciate your support!” the post said. “This is a once-in-a-generation project that is going to benefit students today and into the future! LCC is the place to be!”
With the bond issue’s passage, the district now sits well positioned for years to come, Christiansen said. He pointed to two aspects of the project.
The grade school will receive extensive remodeling, the superintendent said.
“The bond funds (the) renovations of student learning environments covering 25,550 square feet, specifically in the elementary school, where classrooms will have permanent walls, secured doors and expanded space,” he said.
“The focus is on improving overall building safety, security, accessibility and efficiency of student, staff and patron flow, both inside and outside of school facilities.”
In addition, the high school will receive construction of new facilities, Christiansen said.
“The bond encompasses significant new construction of 58,830 square feet, designed to update and modernize classroom facilities that will effectively meet teaching and learning needs well into the future,” he said.
“This includes all new high school classrooms, science labs, state-of-the-art career and technical education facilities for agriculture, industrial technology, family consumer science and business.”
In addition, this phase will provide for the cafeteria/concessions/commons, multiple-purpose/storm shelter and community fitness center, he said.
Also, the bond addresses deferred maintenance needs on the district’s buildings including roofs, exteriors, windows, carpeting, mechanical and systems, and parking, Christiansen said.
Cedar County Clerk Dave Dowling, who also serves as county election commissioner, conducted both the initial count and recount for the LCC election.
“We had a 65% voter turnout, which is good for a special election,” he told the Press & Dakotan. “(It’s) very rare to have (turnout) results like this on a special election.”
Based on his conversations, Dowling believes that LCC bond supporters launched a major voter outreach and information effort to secure passage this time around.
“I heard that a group mailed letters out to residents of the district and lobbied hard for the bond issue,” the clerk said.
The election, while decided by a razor-thin margin, didn’t require an automatic recount under Nebraska state law, Dowling said.
“Actually, mandatory recounts ONLY apply to candidate elections,” he said. “Since this was a bond issue, mandatory recounts don’t apply.”
While not required, Dowling went ahead with a recount for two reasons.
“I did do a recount as a canvassing process to verify ballots cast did not exceed the number of people voting and to also make sure of the count since it was that close before I certified the election,” he said.
Cedar County has used all-mail balloting for other elections, and it applied to the LCC school bond issue, Christiansen said.
Dowling pointed to the Laurel-Concord/Coleridge election as another example that all-mail balloting — used in Knox, Cedar and Dixon counties of northeast Nebraska, among other parts of the state — consistently results in higher voter turnout across the board.
“In past years, when an election was held similar to this one (and) when polling places were used, the percent of turnout ranged from 35-50%, so the all-mail process does produce more votes,” the county clerk said.
Dowling noted the importance of each eligible voter casting a ballot. In a number of cases, as with the LCC school, one vote can decide a candidate race, bond issue or other close election, he added.
“Every vote counts,” he said. “Some people, I think, need to vote because they feel it will go one way or another by a large margin and ‘my vote doesn’t matter.’ This shows otherwise.”
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