The Centralia School District Board of Directors unanimously approved a resolution to put a $74 Million Capital Facilities Bond on the February 14, 2017 ballot. Recommended by a community wide Facilities Planning committee, the bond would address the most urgent school building needs. This publication provides answers to important questions about the bond measure.
Why does the district need to run a bond at this time?
Many of our schools are in dire need of improvement, and have been for quite some time. The average age of our school buildings is nearly 70 years old and most buildings are failing. Education has changed a lot in 70 years! Many new demands are placed on school buildings to accommodate current learning needs. Most of all, it is not a wise investment to keep paying for expensive maintenance of buildings that are far beyond their useful lives.
What are the projects in the bond?
1. A "like new" Centralia High School
Centralia High School was built in 1968 and has not had significant updates or modernizations since. While the building enjoys good structural integrity, it is severely deficient functionally. Additionally, mechanical, plumbing, electrical and technology systems are at or past their useful life and need replacement. Securing replacement parts for many of the school’s mechanical systems (like the heating system) is becoming increasingly difficult. Site circulation and parking is also in need of reconstruction. Maintaining the building’s aging infrastructure is becoming increasingly difficult and costly. The building requires extensive asbestos removal.
2. Two new K-6 Elementary Schools
The new elementary schools will replace Jefferson Lincoln and Fords Prairie schools, both of which received unsatisfactory ratings in a state study of building conditions. The new schools will be designed to house 525 students each, allowing the district to reduce the number of portable classrooms in use and ease overcrowding at all of Centralia’s elementary schools.
Jefferson Lincoln is currently at 132 percent of designed capacity and relies on seven portable classrooms. One set of restrooms serves the nearly 300 students who attend the school. The front portion of the building was built in 1957. Six classrooms are situated around the small multipurpose room causing severe noise intrusion during PE classes, assemblies, performances, and lunch times. An addition to this school was completed in 1977. The school has faced significant and frequent struggles with the plumbing system. Much of the plumbing is encased in the concrete slab making it necessary to dig into the slab to make repairs. The entire roof is in need of replacement and leaks are currently widespread throughout the building. Asbestos is present in the attic spaces above classrooms and in other parts of the facility.
Fords Prairie’s student population is currently 125 percent of its designed capacity, forcing the use of nine portable classrooms. These classrooms are located far away from the main parts of the building and are difficult to secure. The main portion of the buidling was built in 1947 with additions in the 1950s and 1970s. In addition to overcrowding, immediate needs at Fords Prairie include the replacement of the boiler which provides heat to the building, replacement of the failing roof, significant upgrades for safety and security, and seismic retrofitting.
NOTE: Washington, Oakview, and Edison will be reconfigured to K-6 facilities under this plan as well.
3. Safety and Security Upgrades Throughout the District
As part of the bond program, the District would conduct a comprehensive evaluation of security needs in its buildings. Potential improvements include enhanced security cameras, fencing, access control and related security improvements aimed at protecting against intruders.'
What will the bond cost taxpayers?
The bond will cost property owners an estimated $2.12 per $1,000 assessed property value. That means the owner of $170,000 home would pay approximately $30 per month. If approved, it is estimated that the District will receive an additional $27 million in state funding assistance. That means for every $1.00 approved by local voters, the state will provide $0.36, greatly expanding the amount of work that can be accomplished.
What is the difference between a Bond and Levy?
Levies and bonds are different funding measures and are used for different things. A levy supplements the state’s allotted funding for schools and provide funding to support learning and student programs. They are for maintaining the operation of the district. Bonds pay for higher cost long-term capital projects such as remodeling or construction of facilities. Levy money cannot be used for capital facility projects. An easy way to remember the difference: Levies are for Learning. Bonds are for building.
When was the last time voters approved a bond?
The last school construction bond passed by voters in Centralia was in 1986. That measure financed the modernizations of both Centralia Middle School and Edison Elementary. Both of those projects are now approaching 30 years since completion.
How can we be assured the money will be spent as promised?
The District is committed to a highly transparent process before, during, and after the construction process. We have, and will continue to, provide regular updates and progress reports to the community. Also, school construction bonds can only legally be used as described in the resolution passed by the Board of Directors in November. Diversion of these funds to other projects is not legal or possible without voter approval.
Doesn’t the outcome of the McCleary decision impact state funding for school construction?
No. OSPI’s (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) school construction funding assistance program has not changed in response to McCleary. Any McCleary ruling to date has impacted only operational funding, but does not address capital needs.
Can the district get by with using more portable classrooms?
More than 50 portable classrooms are now being used throughout the district. The number of students who attend classes in portables every day is equivalent to the population of two of our elementary schools. Portables are a security risk because of multiple entrances, and the fact that students must walk to and from the main school. Portables take up valuable playground space and isolate students and teachers from core building areas like gyms, cafeterias and libraries. Portables are not equipped to support 21st century education and are often considered a “band aide” until permanent classrooms can be built. They are not designed to be permanent structures and are not really wise investments of taxpayer funds.
Where will classes be held during construction of new buildings?
At Jefferson Lincoln and Fords Prairie, the new schools would be built
in different spots on the existing sites. Those two buildings would
continue to be used by students until the new schools are finished, at
which point they would be demolished to make way for further
improvements to the campuses.
At Centralia High School, it is likely that a "farm" of portable buildings will need to be brought in to temporarily house students during the reconstruction of the existing building. That project would be done in phases in order to minimize the disruption to normal routines at the school..
What is the timeline for the projects?
Once approved, the high school will take about a year to design and two years to construct. Each elementary school will take about a year to design and 15 months to construct. It may be possible to undertake more than one project simultaneously.
Will citizens have an opportunity to engage in planning for the new schools after the bond is passed?
Yes, there be opportunities for involvement as we design and plan these community schools. Architects will have a series of design workshops where the community can participate in developing an appropriate character for the new buildings.
How does the district gather information about the condition of our schools?
The district engaged in comprehensive state study that uses a rubric to score schools based on their condition. Three elementary schools and the high school were categorized in as being in “poor” physical condition in spite of diligent maintenance by the District over many years. Others were given unsatisfactory ratings, which is concerning as well.
What was the process for identifying the project priorities?
The bond proposal is the result of a year-long study by a community-driven Facilities Planning Committee made up of more than 40 community members. The committee gathered and studied a significant amount of data about our buildings, including enrollment, capacity and condition reports. Following this work, the committee considered the long-range vision of the school board, survey feedback from patrons and a series of meetings with community members, organizations, parents and staff to help identify and recommend the highest project priorities.
$74 Million is a lot of money. Why are you asking for that amount?
We’ve had major facility needs for many years and have been looking at this problem for a very long time. Our needs have reached the critical point. We’ve come up with a financial plan that will stretch our resources to the fullest, yet keep the overall tax burden under $30 per month for most homeowners. To be able to build three schools and take care of safety and security needs across the district will be a huge return on the community’s investment.
How will you address the other schools that need replacing?
We know there are many other needs in our district but we’re working to address the most urgent priorities first, as identified by the Facilities Committee. This bond is a first step in a Long-Range plan that will eventually address all our schools.
How does the new STEM building grant at CHS tie in to the bond?
The STEM grant will be a huge advancement for us in our ability to teach and prepare students for their careers and we are grateful to the legislature and the state for this $3.616 million grant. Our plan is to blend the two projects (STEM classrooms and Like New High School Remodel) together to maximize our dollars. No matter what happens, we will go through with building the STEM classrooms, this bond offers us the opportunity blend it into the overall design of the high school.
When do we vote?
Ballots for the February 14th election will arrive in mailboxes by January 27th and must be postmarked and dropped in the mail or dropped off at an official collection box by February 14th. A 60 percent supermajority is required for school construction bonds to be approved.
I’m a senior citizen on a fixed income. How will this impact me?
Seniors over the age of 65 and with annual income from all sources of $35,000 or less may be exempt from paying this property tax if it is approved. You should contact your county assessor’s office for information on how to obtain this exemption.
Lewis County Assessor
Thurston County Assessor
Why do we have to pay for this, doesn’t the state fund education?
The state of Washington is responsible for funding education. In fact, our constitution calls funding education the “paramount priority” of the state legislature. This does not, however, including providing funding for the construction or replacement of schools. That responsibility falls to the communities served by the school districts.
Local funding of school construction projects helps ensure that communities maintain a strong voice in how their educational systems are operated.
We work diligently to be guardians of your investment in Centralia schools. We know the community’s generosity is the key to quality school facilities where Centralia students can best learn and thrive. We thank our community for the resources they’ve given over the years.