Ballots will go out soon for an $18 million expansion of the Hershey school, an expansion that the school board hopes will serve the district for the next 70 years.

The addition includes a new auxiliary gymnasium, locker rooms, commons / lunchroom, kitchen, weight room and would renovate parts of the existing school building, adding more classrooms. In all, 30,000 square feet of floor space would be added and 55,000 sq-ft. would be updated.  

Hershey currently educates about 520 students.

Under the plan, the school’s oldest gym, kitchen and cafeteria would be converted to classrooms.

The expansion would be financed by a bond, payable by the property taxpayers of the school district. It would add $150 per year to the taxes of an owner of a $100,000 property.

Irrigated farmland owners would pay $774 per quarter-section per year for the school bond.

The board believes the expansion will in essence create a new, upgraded facility to last the next 70-plus years, at half the cost of a new, similar-size building, they said in a press release that was sent to the Sutherland newspaper.

Voting will be conducted entirely by mail under the supervision of the Lincoln County Election Clerk. Ballots will be mailed on Monday, July 19 and must be received by the clerk no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, in order to be counted.

There are about 1,500 registered voters in the Hershey school district, Lincoln County Election Clerk Becky Rossell said.

Ballots can be returned by mail, or, a drop box for ballots is located near the south door of the county courthouse.

Proponents have organized a group called “Hershey Panthers for Progress.” Tours of the school and a public meeting are set for both Monday and Tuesday evenings. Tours begin around 6:15 p.m. and the meeting starts at 7 p.m.

The Panthers for Progress say the new building will provide needed space for special education and vocational agriculture. Locker rooms will be much improved. The new kitchen and lunchroom will put an end to lunches served in shifts. And, the building will have a central, secure entrance.

Expansion plans were in the works in 2019, but COVID-19 brought the process to a halt, the school board said in the press release. In January, the planning process began again. The nearly six-month process culminated with a consensus from the board about the design.

The expansion will address the urgent needs in the most efficient and fiscally prudent way possible, the board said.  

No property tax break

If Hershey voters approve the bond in August, a new state tax reform measure won’t help ease the strain on agricultural landowners in the school district.  

Under LB 2, which passed the Legislature on a vote of 36-6, agricultural and horticultural land is valued at 50% of its actual value for purposes of school bonds such as Hershey’s.  

However, the act does not become operative until Jan. 1.

If it were operative, it would reduce the school bond taxes by about $195 per year for the owner of an irrigated quarter-section.

Agricultural and horticultural land is currently valued at 75% of actual value, and except for the new provision for school bond taxes, ag land will continue to be valued at 75% of actual value, according to state statutes.

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