Hermiston residents voted against a $104 million school bond measure a little over a year ago. Now, a committee is trying to figure out what the community will support in an effort to update and upgrade several schools in town.
On Tuesday, members of that committee spent about 45 minutes with the Hermiston City Council going over feedback it has received from voters, and the current infrastructure needs of the Hermiston School District.
As committee member Phil Hamm told the council, the road ahead will not be easy.
“There’s a real ‘no new taxes’ sentiment out there,” Hamm told the council.
But committee members also said there’s a real need to provide students with a better, safer learning environment.
In May 2017, the district put up a $104 million bond that was rejected by voters 58 percent to 42 percent. If it has passed, it would have allowed the district to replace Rocky Heights and Highland Hills Elementary Schools at their current locations; build a new elementary school on district-owned property near Theater Lane; expand Hermiston High School; and address deferred maintenance, parking and ventilation systems at Sandstone Middle School.
Those needs still exist, but the committee said there’s little chance of another bond measure that size.
“Based on feedback, the next bond measure will be much smaller and will be able to do less,” said District Operations Director Brad Wayland.
Several years ago, the district ran out of room for its growing student population. The solution was to purchase modular buildings that can serve as two classrooms or about 60 students. The district is now utilizing 14 modular classrooms and will run out of room by 2020.
They are called “dry modulars” because there are no bathrooms or sinks in them, and they cost $150,000 each, money that comes out of the district’s general fund – the same fund that pays teachers’ salaries.
At Rocky Heights and Highland Hills Elementary Schools, there is only one gym/commons area, which means the gym can’t be used for P.E. classes during the various lunch times. At times, P.E. is held in a regular classroom.
There are parking issues and pick-up and drop-off issues at several schools, but particularly at Highland Hills and Sandstone Middle School, which are just a few blocks away on the same street.
The high school has its own parking and traffic congestion issues, as well. It also has to turn students away from its CTE classes because there is not enough room to provide career training education to each student who wants it.
The committee nor the district has decided what it will do next. It is likely a decision will be made in June.