Strong support from voters in the city of Litchfield was not quite enough to overcome overwhelming opposition in other precincts throughout Litchfield School District.
And that leaves some uncertainty about the future of the proposed Litchfield Area Recreation Center.
The school district’s referendum question, which asked voters to approve a $13.5 million bond that would be used to construct a swimming pool and public space that would be part of a joint city-school recreation center, failed by 174 votes, with 2,578 “no” votes to 2,404 “yes” in the Nov. 8 general election.
The school’s referendum was part of a two-pronged approach to create funding for the LARC. The other was the city’s referendum question asking voters to support a half-percent local option sales tax.
The proposed center — given the name of Litchfield Area Recreation Center, or LARC, by a joint powers committee including city council and school board members — would include a four-section field house with an elevated walking track, an eight-lane indoor swimming pool, exercise rooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms and locker room.
The facility would be built to the immediate south of Litchfield High School. Tennis courts and a wrestling room currently on or near the site would be relocated. The facility would be accessed by students through a door between the high school and the north wall of the new building. The public would enter the facility from a new parking lot and door on the east wall. Key fob systems would be used for secure entry.
Most of the aquatic center would be funded by the school district; most of the field house area, which would include space for tennis, pickleball, basketball, field hockey and other activities, by the city. The two entities would split evenly the cost of office, reception and community areas.
The city’s referendum passed with 1,431 (55.68%) “yes” votes to 1,139 (44.32%) “no.”
It was hoped the two efforts, combined with a $5 million state grant, would provide the bulk of funding for construction of a facility that carries an estimated $27.2 million price tag. Though the two entities worked on two separate funding packages, it would be one facility, possibly operated under the Litchfield Community Education program, but open to use for school events as well as the general public.
The school district’s referendum failure throws that all into question, however.
The city could proceed with its portion of the project, in anticipation of eventual passage of a school bond that would pay for pool construction. In fact, it seems likely that’s what will happen, even if how or when it happens is yet to be decided.
“The way the (city-school) committee put it together, yes, it will (proceed),” said Ron Dingmann, council member at-large and mayor-elect. “I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to look.
“We’ll sit down, probably even with the school district people, to decide what to do in the future,” he said, adding that he expected the school district to bring a referendum back to district residents in the near future.
And that expectation seems well-placed. Litchfield Public Schools Superintendent Beckie Simenson, during a staff in-service last week, essentially promised teachers the bond question would go back before voters. At the beginning of Monday’s School Board meeting, Simenson acknowledged the bond question “narrowly missed,” but she said the district’s goal continues to be building and operating a high-quality facility that can be used by all residents.
The biggest sales job likely will be in townships surrounding Litchfield, where the school’s bond referendum failed in 10 of 15 precincts.
Voters in the city of Litchfield supported the bond 1,414 to 1,113 – nearly the same margin of support they offered for the city’s local option sales tax question. Meanwhile, precincts outside the city of Litchfield opposed the school bond question 1,465 (61.71%) to 909 (38.28%).
School board results:
Three Litchfield School Board seats also were on the Nov. 8 ballot, with five candidates seeking election. All three incumbents — Marcia Provencher, Darrin Anderson and Greg Mathews — were elected over challengers Malinda Larson and Andrew Hallin.