Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 31, 2014

Voters approve auditorium for Washington High School

By DAVID HOTLE | Apr 04, 2014

WASHINGTON, Iowa (GTNS) For the first time in about 50 years and after numerous rejected proposals, Washington Community School District voters broke the 60 percent supermajority needed to approve a $1.1 million bond referendum Tuesday, clearing the way for the construction of an auditorium at Washington High School.

Washington schools superintendent Mike Jorgensen and auditorium committee co-chairwoman Jan Gallagher waited in the lobby of the Washington County Courthouse for the results since before the polls closed at 8 p.m. Instead of the traditional placing of a sheet of results on a table in the doorway of the auditor’s office, Washington County Auditor Dan Widmer came into the hallway and announced the results to a small group.

“Yes votes were 866; no votes were 397 – you needed 758,” Widmer said.

Gallagher let out a “Yes!” and hugged several of the people around her. Widmer told the people around – all from the Washington district — that Mid-Prairie School District had also won its $10.6 million bond referendum. Mid-Prairie Schools Superintendent Mark Schneider sent his congratulations to the Washington district.

Widmer said that for a school bond referendum special election, a lot of people had turned out to the polls. Several times during the day the line of people waiting to vote in the Washington County supervisors chambers extended out the doorway, around the foyer and up the stairs. In all 1,263 people voted out of 6,850 registered voters. This is 18.44 percent of the voters. Widmer said that 115 of the voters were from the Brighton precinct.

Jorgensen said that he thought the district had a shot at getting a 70 percent positive vote. Still, it had never left his mind that the last time the voters approved a bond issue for the district was to build the Washington Junior High School in 1960.

“We owe a big debt of gratitude to Jan [Gallagher] and Bob [Youngquist],” Jorgensen said. “They did outstanding work in terms of getting this for us. We’re excited.”

He said that the $7 million project is shovel-ready and the next step to secure funding for the project is a grant from Vision Iowa. The committee is holding its second meeting with Vision Iowa Wednesday. The project may start as early as this fall and be ready at the start of the 2015 school year.

Gallagher, a retired speech and drama teacher at Washington High School, said that she is excited about the results and credited the people who helped and the public for support of the issue.

“It’s about kids and it is about finding a place where kids can belong and flourish and we can bring things to the community to celebrate Washington,” she said.

Although she hasn’t talked with anyone about it yet, Gallagher said that she wanted to have a special alumni performance to open the auditorium.

Less than a block away at JP’s 207, Youngquist – a retired Washington music teacher — waited with several volunteers for the results. Learning the outcome, several of the people reported getting big hugs from Youngquist.

“I suppose I’m not a screamer but … I was very pleased,” Youngquist said of the moment he learned of the approval.

Youngquist said he hopes this changes the feeling between the town and the school district, saying it had been so long since a bond issue was approved. He was impressed with the numbers of people who showed up to the polls.

Washington High School principal Erik Buchholz found out about the approval as he finished watching a jazz band concert in the gym at the high school.

“When you try to use a gymnasium for a concert … people are used to coming into a gym where you stand up and you leave and chat and yell and scream,” he said. “That is not what an auditorium is like. People learn to come in, sit down, the phones go off and you pay attention to what is going on. You enjoy a concert in a lot different manner than you enjoy a basketball game. An auditorium has a lot different feel to it than a gymnasium does.”

Youngquist said that during his 41 years of working with the district, an auditorium had always been a valuable part. He said that it seemed a “travesty” for the district not to have an auditorium at the high school to serve the students’ needs.

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