Voters Could Decide on $104 Million School Bond

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Hermiston voters will be asked to approve a bond measure in 2017 that would replace Rocky Heights Elementary School and possibly Highland Hills Elementary School, while also building a sixth elementary school.

A Citizens’ Review Committee presented its recommendations to the Hermiston School Board at its Monday meeting. The committee is recommending a $104 million capital needs bond measure, but also hedged its bets with a “minimum” package of $84 million.

The committee first met last October with the task of reviewing the 2008 school bond outcomes and evaluating the infrastructure challenges facing Hermiston School District – aging schools, high student enrollment growth, safety and security risks, and the district’s current tax burden – by building on prior work of the Facility Master Planning Committee, including its Comprehensive Facility Master Plan.

The CRC assessed the $131 million in total need outlined by the master plan and prioritized it down to $104 million in identified projects during its presentation to the school board. The $104 million package would meet the following needs:

• Replace Rocky Heights with a new school.
• Replace Highland Hills Elementary School with a new building.
• Build a new elementary school, giving the district six elementary schools.
• Build a new wing at Hermiston High School to accommodate a student population of 2,000.
• Safety and engineering upgrades for Sandstone Middle School.

Committee member Phil Hamm said the lower-cost package will address some of the district’s needs, but not all of them.

“Doing the minimum package would provide seats for all students for the next ten years,” he said. “It doesn’t remove the need for modular classroom, just some of them.”

Hamm said regardless of what size of bond the district goes for, certain steps will have to be taken to address overcrowding and aging infrastructure.

“The district minimally has to replace Rocky Heights Elementary School, build a new elementary school on property already owned by the school district, expand the high school to have a capacity to 2,000 students and do access, engineering and safety upgrades at Sandstone Middle School and Highland Hills,” he said.

Hamm, a former school board member, said the district is under pressure to ease the overcrowding.

“If I was still on the school board, after our report, I would think they could feel like they have a gun pointed at them,” he said. “They are looking at substantial needs since we have a fast growing school district, with few choices but to ask voters to support another substantial building program.”

He said it would be difficult for the district to maintain its high education standards with its current infrastructure combined with an ever-increasing student population.

“I believe the school board doesn’t want to lose ground in their effort to maintain the Hermiston School District as a top rated district in Oregon, so building additional facility is inevitable,” he said.

The plan is to put the bond measure before voters in May of 2017.

If the minimum $84 million plan is put before the voters, it would include $1 million in safety and access upgrades to Highland Hills Elementary School. If the recommended $104 million package is put before voters, it would replace Highland Hills with a brand new school.

In February, the Hermiston School District announced it will set three, two-classroom modular buildings at Hermiston High School over spring break to accommodate student growth needs.