Falls City voters asked to support schools

Crowded gyms, kitchens, classrooms cramp teachers and students

FALLS CITY — On April 20, Falls City School District staff prepared more than 130 meals in a kitchen with very limited prep space — and no dishwasher.

That means everything is hand washed. Each meal tray has to be dried with a paper towel.

“We do that every day, once a day,” said Head Cook Yvonne VanHorn.

VanHorn recalled years ago she was asked a question: “If you could have anything, what would it be? I said a dishwasher.”

Measure 27-118, a $2 million bond to build a multipurpose gym and cafeteria at Falls City Elementary School, would grant that wish.

The 20-year bond would cost $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value and, if passed, would be doubled by a state grant, making $4 million available for the project.

Proponents say the gym would allow the district to hold more sports practices at once — and avoid having practices run until after 9 p.m. for some teams.

More space for a cafeteria would give kitchen staff more elbow room, food storage space, and the modern convenience of a dishwasher.

Classroom space could be expanded at the elementary school as “gym” classes could be moved from a basement “multipurpose room,” that also serves as a music room.

Currently the school has classes with two grade levels taught by one teacher.

School officials say with more space, they could break up the larger classes into single grades.

Falls City School Board Chairwoman Jami Kidd said the proposed facility could offer the district the opportunity and room to hire full-time music and drama, and health and physical education teachers.

“We have really seen a difference in our kids’ ability to be well-rounded, lifelong learners decline without the influence of extracurricular activities, music and PE,” she said. “In order to empower our kids to be successful, we are bringing health and physical education back into the regular curriculum.”

As planned now, the building would be next to the elementary school on land the school district owns, but is not using.

Like the school site, it has a steep slope on what would be in the back side of the building.

Resident and City Councilor Tony Meier raised questions about cost to build an earthquake-safe facility compared to the flat land across the street, now occupied by a covered play structure and playground.

Project architect Alan Costic said the site shouldn’t affect the cost and the facility would have to be built to current earthquake codes.

“The cost would be relatively the same whether we built up here or over there. The reason we are building here is really proximity to this building,” he said. “The fact that these children are going to be the ones who will be using it.”

Costic said while plans are still preliminary, the objective is to build a facility that is as maintenance-free as possible.

“We know that you are going to be paying money now,” Costic said. “There’s no sense in paying money year after year after year in terms in of upkeep, so that is one of the goals we have in terms of developing this.”

Resident Charlie Flynn said the district is asking for the bond at a time when the city is facing potentially costly upgrades to its sewer system.

He said at a recent town hall meeting that he’s concerned about how the new facility would affect the system.

“We are facing a real issue with the septic systems and having to do a lot with that in a short amount of time or the state may step in,” Flynn said. “And once they do, we have no choices left.”

Falls City Superintendent Jack Thompson said he believes because the building will use water more efficiently than the existing gym, there will be no negative impact to the city’s treatment plant.

“I actually think it is going to reduce the amount of flow into the system, especially when we have large events,” Thompson said.

School board member Larry Sickles agreed with Flynn that timing is key, but for another reason.

He said the state’s grant makes the bond a unique opportunity.

“We are one of nine schools that got selected to do this, because they recognize the need that we have,” Sickles said. “Doing this facility now is extremely important because of the matching funds. If we don’t get the matching funds, we couldn’t do this.”

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