An upswelling of community support pushed the levy issue for Morgan County R-II to success April 8.

An upswelling of community support pushed the levy issue for Morgan County R-II to success April 8.

In the district's first successful tax issue since 1978, a 15-cent increase on property tax was passed by a vote of 1,087 to 877, raising the rate from $2.75 to $2.90 per $100 of assessed valuation.

The additional revenue will first fund an EF5-tornado-rated aboveground storm shelter at the main campus in Versailles in conjunction with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The shelter will double as a performing arts center.

"We appreciate all the support that the community has given us," said MCR2 Superintendent Dr. Joyce Ryerson. "We've had a lot of positive momentum coming into the election. There's been a unification across the district in various communities that I hope we can continue."

The district is already in the design phase for the storm shelter under the terms of the FEMA grant. School officials have until November to finalize the design and drawings and get the shelter location approved.

Once engineers have signed off on all the plans, the school will be ready to break ground this fall and will then have 19 months to complete the project. The building should be ready to open in 2016.

After a long qualifying process begun in 2011-12, the district received notice this past winter that it was the recipient of a FEMA shelter grant for close to $2 million with matching funds of $605,500 required.

The board decided to try to roll the grant into a greater value for the school by having the shelter double as a performing arts center — a project that has long been in the district's master plan and that a 2012 community survey indicated was the biggest need for the school.

To outfit the shelter as a performing arts facility raised the district's cost to approximately $2.5 million with a total project cost of around $4.5 million.

At 15,000 square foot, the building will house up to 1,700 people as a storm shelter and would have auditorium seating for around 500-600.

In comparison, the Royal Theatre in downtown Versailles has a maximum seating capacity of 272.

The levy increase will also help stabilize the district's operating budget and outstanding debt.

The district plans to roll its outstanding debt from the construction of the high school commons into the lease purchase for the storm shelter to lower the interest rate.

The additional funds left after the lease purchase payment will be used to help offset the rising expenses and declining state funding support it has seen over the last several years. District officials are also considering options for adding more security and stabilizing infrastructure, such as new roofing where needed and staying in a regular bus replacement schedule.

When the lease purchase is paid off in 15-20 years, the district could absorb the full increase into its operational budget or could choose to voluntarily roll back the levy to the base rate of $2.75, depending on the needs at the time.

At some point, the board may also look at adding a few things back that the board had to cut to balance the budget. The district has cut 22 full time equivalent positions - largely through natural attrition - since 2008-09.