District Pitches $104 Million Bond Measure
Hermiston voters will be asked in May to approve a $104 million bond measure to help alleviate school overcrowding.
Hermiston School District officials outlined the proposed bond measure during Monday’s Hermiston City Council meeting. Katie Saul, director of business services for the district, said the district is the second-fastest growing district in Oregon and the 28th overall biggest district in the state – and that growth is forcing more and more students out of traditional classrooms and into modular buildings.
Growth projections indicate the district’s population will increase 24 percent or by 1,100 students in the next seven years. In recent years, despite building two new elementary schools in the last several years, the district has had to increasingly rely on modular buildings. There are currently more than 30 modular buildings in use and the district may have to utilize more than 50 modulars if the bond measure does not pass.
The proposed bond measure, if passed, would pay for the following:
• Replace Rocky Heights Elementary School on the same site at a cost of $20,150,000
• Replace Highland Hills Elementary School on the same site at a cost of $20,150,000
• Build a new elementary school on district-owned property on Theater Lane at a cost of $22,050,000
• Expand Hermiston High School with safety and security improvements at a cost of $28,525,000
• Improve fairgrounds at cost of $1,550,000
• Improve heating and cooling systems at Sandstone Middle School at a cost of $2,588,000
If passed, the bond measure would cost property owners 90 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
Rocky Heights is 53 years old while Highland Hills is just 37 years old, but suffers from in adequate safety and security measures, said Mike Kay, director of operations for the district. Kay said each new school built would have a life expectancy of 50 years.
“Tough political environment”
Hermiston City Councilor John Kirwan told Kay the district will have an uphill challenge convincing voters to increase their taxes even with a serious overcrowding issue.
“We’re facing a tough political environment,” Kirwan said. “A lot of people I’ve talked to don’t think they can afford an increase in taxes. I think $104 million is going to be difficult to sell.”
Kay said he understood that point of view, but added that the community will have to make a difficult choice.
“Are they comfortable putting our kids in modulars?” he asked, adding that some modular buildings don’t even have bathrooms.
Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann was more optimistic than Kirwan.
“The last bond was passed (in 2008) during the worst economic downturn of our time,” he said. “We survived that, in part, because of the community re-investment in our schools.”
“We’re going to have to put our kids somewhere”
Kay said he looks at the bond measure as an investment in the community and its children.
“When you have good schools, property values increase and your home value goes up,” he said. “It’s not just an increase in taxes.”
Drotzmann said those who are worried about the cost of the measure should keep in mind that the problem is not going away and need to think about what it will cost down the road.
“It’s not like we don’t have a need,” he said.
Added Kay, “We’re going to have to put our kids somewhere.”
Also part of the bond measure is improvements to the current fairgrounds, which are scheduled to be moved to the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center this summer. If passed, the district would move the high school baseball field over toward the current fairgrounds and rodeo grounds as well as move the girls’ softball field currently at Rocky Heights to the same general location. Additional parking will also be added.