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New schools cost estimated at $161M

With each school facilities meeting, the numbers for replacing all buildings in the school district are getting more closely refined. The latest number is $161 million, which is for only construction costs, and in today’s dollars.

“This isn’t the final number at all but it gives you a better replacement cost,” said District 21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong.


Candy Armstrong

The district and a citizen committee — there were 37 people at the last facilities meeting — are studying replacement of all district buildings, which, with the exception of the 16-year-old middle school, are projected to be in poor to extremely poor condition within five years.

A recent analysis found it would cost $22.4 million just to keep the schools in their poor condition.

The district plans to seek a 50-year bond authority, which would give it authority to bond up to a certain dollar amount in increments, over a 50-year period.

It would only utilize portions of the bonding authority at a time, as it replaced each building.

The 50-year authority would mean the district would not have to go out for a new bond with each new building.

Two other districts in Oregon have recently passed 50-year bond authorities.

Armstrong said the board is very strong on pursuing a bond authority, as opposed to seeking a bond for each building.

The fear is that if a single-building bond is passed, voters will think “’Ok, I’ve taken care of things,’” Armstrong said.

With a 50-year authority, the board “wants to make sure the community knows what they are voting for; this is not a one-time thing.

“We’re certainly going to pay attention to make sure we don’t put too much debt on at once, but this all has to be done,” Armstrong said. “All the schools have to be replaced.”

Even the 16-year-old middle school will be nearly 70 years old at the end of the bonding authority, and will itself need to be replaced by then, she explained.

The next facilities meeting is Feb. 21, and then the school board will decide at its March 2 meeting whether it willput the bond authority on the May 16 ballot.

If it opts not to go on that ballot, the next election date is in November.

She said the construction costs will “be bumping a bit more yet to where we can get to a point where we can say, ‘Oh, this is a pretty good number.’”

Estimated construction-only replacement costs listed were $64 million for the high school; $41 million for the middle school (which Armstrong noted was built for $18 million just 16 years ago, showing the effect of inflation); $16.1 million for Col. Wright Elementary; $21.8 million for Chenowith Elementary; and $17.8 million for Dry Hollow Elementary.

However, the Dry Hollow figure does not include the six modular classrooms at that location, Armstrong said.

And Col. Wright Elementary, the smallest of the three elementaries, would probably be rebuilt bigger, making that cost higher.

Not included is a contingency amount, plus other costs like site preparation, legal fees and construction management.

She added, “When we come up with this large number then we’re going to have to have an inflation factor in there because we’re not intending to replace everything at once.”

Contractors are busy right now, meaning the cost of projects is higher.

As for designing the schools, this month students and teachers will be asked to do focus groups on what they want to see in the teaching and learning atmosphere.

On the table for discussion are issues ranging from security needs to open space/shared space concepts. Such open spaces are “much more conducive to the type of learning that is taking place now,” Armstrong said.

Today, students work much more in groups, since the act of teaching others is seen as a way for students to truly master material.

Schools are also community resources that should be available for community use, ranging from hosting community basketball leagues to serving as shelter in emergencies.

Armstrong said there has been no discussion on where new buildings would be placed, but the city of The Dalles is fortuitously working on a housing plan and a transportation plan, both of which will aid the school district in discussing where to locate schools.

And Pendleton, for example, built a new elementary right next to a current elementary, and were able to do construction without displacing students.


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