The Chewelah School Board of Directors approved to run a long-term capital bond during the February 2013 election for $9.9 million to fund a complete renovation of the Jenkins High School campus, and minor upgrades for Gess Elementary. The bond resolution was passed at a special meeting on Nov. 5 where the project architect and superintendent Rick Linehan presented their recommendation for facilities to the school board and members of the newly-formed community bond committee.
The long-term bond would increase property taxes for district residents by an additional $1.64 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the next 20 years. Linehan said that is a much lower rate compared to many neighboring school districts.
If the ballot proposition passes, which must be approved by a supermajority vote (60 percent), Washington State would match the local contribution of $9,900,000 with another $9.8 million of capital project matching funds to bring the total project cost to $19.7 million.
State match is determined by a school district’s square footage needs, which is calculated by enrollment. Students are allowed a certain amount of square footage by the state and the Chewelah School District serves less students than the amount of square footage it maintains. It once housed 1,300 students but is now expected to stabilize at 800 K-12 students.
The district started the process to consolidate the district to two buildings by moving the sixth grade to Gess at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.
An estimated $19.2 million of the total bond amount would be used toward the modernization and expansion of the JHS building to accommodate the 7-8 grade student body and therefore create a 7-12 grade facility.
The project would modernize all existing square footage and add another 19,500 square feet, which may include five new classrooms, an all-weather track at Barbour Complex behind the school, and an auxiliary gym with performing arts facility capabilities. However, ALSC Architect Dave Huotari said the exact plan cannot not be determined until the bond is passed in February, and many scenarios are possible for configuring the building to best serve the district’s needs.
Linehan said the track is included on the JHS campus in their preliminary plans so it can qualify for state match funds. If put at Snyder Field, it would not get state match money since it is separate from the JHS campus. The board’s resolution does not include new roofing, except on the places where new construction will be added, since the JHS roof was just replaced in 2007 using funds from a short-term capital levy that has already been paid off.
The additional $500,000 from the project cost would be used toward making needed improvements at Gess Elementary to extend the life of the building that is over 20 years old. Linehan said Gess needs a new HVAC system and all windows replaced. These improvements would improve the overall learning experience for students at Gess Elementary Principal Jerry Pugh said.
Linehan said adding this on to the JHS bond proposal will prevent them from having to run another capital bond or levy in the near future, which board members did not think that could be passed too soon after the JHS project.
Although Gess would qualify for state match on its own based on the facility study and survey completed in June 2012, the amount to be used toward Gess is not matchable because it is for a separate project not connected to the JHS campus.
If voters pass the bond, the bid for the construction contract could not be awarded until July 2014 as it takes about a year to determine the project specifications, draw up a plan, receive state match, and award a bid, according to Huotari. He said this would mean students could be in the building by July 2015.
At a previous meeting, the school board approved the resolution to use the Jenkins Middle School building for temporarily housing 7-12 grade students while construction is completed at JHS. After that, JMS must be vacated of all K-12 education for at least 10 years although it can be used for support staff, athletics and administration during that time.
Director Larry Kristiansen said although he agrees that Gess should have upgrades he was hesitant about including it in the bond amount because it is asking a lot from voters.
“There’s a breaking point somewhere,” Kristiansen said of people that may oppose the proposition.
Bond committee member Megan George said it could be a selling point for Gess parents because, improving Gess will effect them now and encourage them to vote.
“Give Gess something, and get a lot more people to support it,” George said.
Kristiansen said the biggest issue is the voting population is not those parents with kids in school and they need to get that demographic registered to vote to make a difference. The bond committee plans to address that in the coming months.
Director Loretta Burkey said she believes having the Gess upgrades included in the bond is the best solution to keeping the building useable. She said it is not about being fair and offering something to make the Gess parent community happy, but its about the work that has to be done to keep the building from facing bigger issues in the future.
All five school board members passed the bond resolution with a unanimous yes vote. The ballot title on the February 2013 ballot will read:
The Board of Directors of Chewelah School District No. 36 adopted Resolution No. 2012-2013-2 concerning a proposition to finance renovation and improvement of schools. This proposition would authorize the District to renovate Jenkins High School to accommodate Grades 7-12 (including upgrading safety, HVAC, mechanical, electrical and technology systems; renovating existing classrooms and gymnasium; constructing additional classrooms, all-weather track and new multipurpose space for performing arts/gymnasium) and improve portions of Gess Elementary; issue no more than $9,990,000 of general obligation bonds maturing within 20 years; and levy annual excess property taxes to repay the bonds, as provided in Resolution No. 2012-2013-2. Should this proposition be:
The community bond committee is lead by Megan George, Trisha Macrae, Kevin Herda, Sherri Hansen, and Diane Evans. Their next meeting will be Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. at the school district office and anyone is welcome to join.
ALSC architects completed a Facility Study and Survey in June 2012 to determine biggest facility needs through a project grant. The school district also conducted a random phone survey to decipher the needs of the voting public in August. These prebond services are to be paid if and when the bond passes.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff