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Central School Chief Optimistic About Bond

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Community members will decide next month whether to greenlight Measure 27-82, a $13.5 million bond that would pay for safety improvements in Central School District facilities

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Community members will decide next month whether to greenlight Measure 27-82, a $13.5 million bond that would pay for safety improvements in Central School District facilities and resolve short-term enrollment capacity issues.

For several months now, officials have been providing information to residents through town-hall style presentations, fliers and the district's web site. A half-hour question-answer session about the bond has been airing on Monmouth and Independence's public access television station for the past couple of weeks.

Superintendent Joseph Hunter said he's optimistic about the bond passing muster with voters, and thinks most will see it as a reasonable way to take care of a long backlog of deferred maintenance items and a much-needed seismic-retrofit of Independence Elementary School.

About 77 percent of 365 area citizens interviewed regarding the proposal said they would support it, according to a district survey performed last spring.

"This lets us deal with the bare, basic needs," Hunter said. "If this doesn't pass, we will limp by. We won't be able to address all the issues with the roofs, heating systems and other problems.

"And regarding growth, I don't know what we will do with the press of students in the future. We will have more bodies than our classrooms can handle."

Community members are currently paying a $2.96 per $1,000 of assessed value in taxes for the district, because of past bonds that funded some additions to Central High School and more recently the contruction of Ash Creek Intermediate School.

This proposed 21-year bond won't change that levy rate because it would take effect when the current bonds expire in 2009, officials said.

"The community will not see a change in their tax rate," Hunter said.

Approximately $3 million will be used for a structural retrofit of IES. An engineering analysis performed last year showed the building wouldn't survive a moderate earthquake and would put those inside at great risk.

If the bond passes, project planning and design would begin immediately. To minimize the impact on instruction at the school, major construction wouldn't begin until June.

Administrators are still considering where to place students if work on IES isn't completed by fall of 2007. Hunter said alternatives include dividing up students and temporarily sending them to other Central schools, or renting space at Western Oregon University or the Oregon Childhood Development Commission (OCDC) building in Independence.

Another major element of the bond is how it will address short-term capacity issues. About 2,800 students currently are enrolled in the district. Officials project more than 3,588 by 2015.

The district will use $5.5 million to purchase modular classrooms for schools that need it and, if possible, purchase the OCDC building.

The bond won't, however, be used to purchase land for a new high school, a concern expressed by some local residents, Hunter said.

"This is a stopgap measure," he said. "It's a small piece to fix our emergency and space needs while we engage the community in a broader discussion of what we're going to do regarding available classroom space."

The remaining bond money would be used to improve damaged roofs, ventilation, heating, cooling and safety systems at all schools. The district currently has a backlog of deferred maintenance items priced at almost $6 million.

As an accountability measure, school officials will conduct weekly construction meetings with contractors to review the status and budgets of the project. Minutes from those gatherings would then be presented at school board meetings, and progress reports posted on the district's web site.

"The feedback we've gotten from the community has confirmed that the (bond) is sensible, reasonable and will address needs that are not going to go away," Hunter said. "

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