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The Sweet Home School Board on Tuesday delayed attaching a price tag to its proposed renovation project amid a debate about whether the gymnasium or auditorium should be expanded.

For the past two weeks, Board President Dirk Rabenold urged trustees to decide how big the project should be so the board could set a bond cost and pass it along to the public for referendum. However, after soliciting feedback from district residents, students and staff, the board is unable to develop a consensus on what improvements should take priority.

An overall project that includes a new gymnasium is projected to cost $20.5 million, which would represent an average tax increase of $24 per year on a home assessed at $100,000, or $475 over 20 years.

Work that includes a new auditorium, but not a new gym, is projected to cost $23.4 million. That option would represent an average tax increase of $28 per year for a home assessed at $100,000, or $590 over 20 years.

Both options also include the replacement of boilers, ceilings, light fixtures, doors and floors -- as well as the repairs.

While the board debated which addition should take precedence, board member Michael Morrow urged the board to exercise caution, especially given the uncertainty of state funding.

"I'm thrifty, but if you're going to do a project at all, do it right the first time," Morrow said. "We've seen the cuts over the past two years. What's next on the chopping block -- extracurricular activities?"

Morrow said he would prefer to hold off on the renovation project, but if the board is going to proceed, the project should include both the auditorium and gym. That option is projected to cost $24.6 million at an average tax increase of $32 per year for a home assessed at $100,000, or $665 over 20 years.

"I don't think any of us doubt that renovation is needed. It's a matter of how much do we do and how do we stay fiscally responsible," Rabenold said. "It needs to be done sooner rather than later, and I don't think we can afford to wait for the state to pass a budget on time."

Board member Heidi Dizer supported the option including a new auditorium and also noted the existing cafeteria does not adequately serve the needs of the district. She also said a Nov. 9 presentation by the Middle School's physical education department soured her on the gym-only option.

"I think their presentation amounted to scare tactics," Dizer said. "It was, 'If you don't build this gym, your kids are going to get fat. That's what they seemed to say, and I just don't agree with that."

The board expects to select a project option at the December voting meeting.

The renovation project has been under discussion since early 2001 and will be put to a public referendum in February 2005. If approved, construction could begin in spring of 2006.

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