School districts seek bond money | Part 1

Glacier Middle School would get more than half of the $100 million being asked for in the upcoming bond vote.

School districts are gearing up for ballot measures seeking hundreds of millions of dollars. In February, three districts will be asking property owners to provide dollars to significantly upgrade their public facilities. Each is hoping to follow the lead of the Enumclaw School District, which had a proposal authorized a year ago. This week, we look at the White River School District proposal; next will come articles focusing on the Carbonado and Sumner requests.

Promising improvements on every school campus and a tax bill that likely will not increase, the White River School District will be asking the community for nearly $100 million.

The district’s seven-member school board opted to place a bond issue before voters in February 2016. Already under way is a campaign aimed at convincing the voting public the dollars are necessary.

The exact amount of the bond request is $98.8 million and will require a 60 percent show of support by district voters.

It has been 15 years since White River sought additional money in the form of a bond issue; that time around, the bulk of cash was used to build the current White River High School, which brought the debut of Glacier Middle School on the previous high school campus in downtown Buckley.

This time, no new schools are planned, but major work is proposed as part of a 20-year bond. While the exact language might be “renovation,” there will be areas torn down and rebuilt from the ground up.

The district presently serves about 3,400 students. That number decreased during the not-too-distant recession but is expected to climb during the years to come. There are developments of new homes springing up throughout the district, Superintendent Janel Keating said, both near Buckley and in the far stretches of the district.

Where will the money go?

• Glacier Middle School

The lion’s share of the bond proceeds – more than $54.6 million – is earmarked for the building that has served the district for more than half a century. The original classrooms were built in 1962 and renovated in the 1980s. The building simply is not suited for the demands of the 21st century, bond boosters emphasize.

Additionally, the student population has outgrown the facility. Presently, about 40 percent of the GMS classrooms are located in portable buildings situated on school grounds. The building’s infrastructure, administrators say, is nearing the end of its useful life.

Glacier is the prime example of extensive demolition and new construction. The end result, according to Keating, will be a facility that looks brand-new.

In a departure from the original plan, students most likely will not be moved off-site while work is accomplished. Keating said architects have devised a plan to keep kids isolated to one part of campus while works proceeds elsewhere.

District newcomers may not be familiar with the history of Sheets Field, the athletic facility on the campus, but it was home to generations of White River High football and track athletes. If the bond measure passes, the aging facility is due for upgrades to the turf, track and grandstands.

• Elk Ridge Elementary

No. 2 on the list, in terms of dollars, is the only elementary school in town; the district’s three other elementaries are in Wilkeson and in areas to the south and west of Buckley.

It’s another aging facility, built in 1969. District officials cite a need to modernize the structure and – at the same time – expand the building to house another 200 students. Home construction in Buckley will warrant the larger size, it is claimed; also, Elk Ridge is home to the district’s programs for elementary-age students with special needs, a growing population.

• Wilkeson Elementary

Serving the community a few miles south of Buckley is the school built in 1900. The primary part of the facility, constructed of locally-mined sandstone, requires special attention because it is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The district proposal is to renovate the interior of the original building and replace both the multipurpose room and kitchen. For $12.7 million, the district would also add 9,000 square feet of space.

• Mountain Meadow and Foothills elementary schools

Pegged for about $4.7 million each, plans call for major maintenance issues like roofing, painting, siding and door replacement. Like all district buildings, they would receive technology improvements, including equipment. Mountain Meadow is 20 years old, the newest district facility aside from the high school.

A big boost for Hornet athletes

When the present White River High was built in 2003, money was not allocated for a true stadium. Grandstands are not covered, parking is distant, locker rooms are in the school building and restrooms are of the “portable” variety.

An allocation of more than $4.2 million from the 2016 bond would change all that.

Athletic Director Chris Gibson has been studying facilities throughout the region, assessing what works and what doesn’t – while keeping White River’s budget in mind. A final design hasn’t been formulated, but some basic plans have been identified. For example, new grandstands will be placed on the home side of the athletic field; important for spectator comfort is the fact they will be covered. A portion of the existing stands, Gibson said, would be moved to the visitor side.

The present restroom situation, which consists primarily of portable toilets, would be remedied. So would parking; the lots are now a bit distant. Tentative plans call for creating an additional parking lot past the tennis courts and closer to the football field, track and baseball and softball diamonds.

Why now?

The bond that built the present White River High will be paid off in 2016, relieving the district – and its taxpayers – of the 15-year debt. Bond proponents have crafted an improvement plan intended to keep taxes stable.

The soon-to-expire bond requires district property owners to pay $2.80 for every $1,000 of assessed value; that’s $560 annually for those owning property assessed at $200,000. If the February 2016 proposal is passed, projections call for the rate to remain at $2.80.

Bond boosters admit the tax rate is high compared with neighboring district. The reason is the makeup of the White River School District, which is big on natural beauty but shy on commercial development. With fewer homes and businesses that nearby districts, the White River tax burden doesn’t get spread quite so thin.

When would work be done?

If the February bond issue is approved, work at Glacier Middle School could start later in 2016. As the middle school project nears completion, work would begin at Elk Ridge. Work throughout the district should be completed by early 2020.