November 26, 2009 in Washington Voices

School busting at seams

Cheney bond would fund new facilities
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Lisa Leinberger photo

Eighth-graders at Cheney Middle School wait in line to get lunch. The middle school, which was built for 700 students, now serves more than 900.
(Full-size photo)

Cheney Middle School’s student population has outgrown its building.

Lunches are divided into three groups to get all the students fed. The cafeteria officially holds 250 people, but the seventh-grade class alone has about 345 students.

Mike Stark, co-principal, said school officials need to check attendance records every day to make sure they aren’t overcrowding the room, and often, some of the students must eat in the hall or gym.

The school staggers class release times to prevent bottlenecks in the hallways.

The school, which opened in 1977, is not only crowded – it’s not aging gracefully, Stark said. Many classrooms have portable walls, which is helpful when adjacent classes are working together, but they aren’t soundproof.

“You can hear what’s going on in adjacent classrooms,” he said.

The building was not built with the latest technology in mind. Wires for the Internet and security cameras run underneath water pipes on the ceiling, which is now leaking.

These are just a few of the reasons the school board unanimously voted last week to put a $79 million bond on the ballot next February.

“The building has served us and served us well for 30 years,” Stark said.

Voters will be asked to approve a tax rate of $4.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Superintendent Larry Keller said this shouldn’t affect taxpayers much, since two previous measures will sunset in 2010.

If approved, the bond will build a new middle school at the current site, a second middle school in the Windsor area, and a new elementary school in the east part of the district, and will help pay for part of the design to renovate the high school.

Keller said there are four main points he wants to make with voters.

First, there is “no room at the inn.” There are many portables being used throughout the growing district, but he said portables cost around $150,000 and that doesn’t include the infrastructure needed, such as power, water or sewer lines.

Second, construction and material costs are low right now, which will mean a savings for the district. Third, the construction projects will create jobs in the area for the next few years.

Fourth, the tax rate will not increase with the bond.

Each new middle school should cost around $37.8 million. The elementary school would cost around $18 million, but the district will receive approximately that amount in matching funds from the state.

Keller said that if the district chose to renovate the existing middle school it would cost around $35 million and the district would still need a second middle school and a new elementary school. Taxpayers would still need to approve a $72.8 million bond for those projects.

If the district did nothing to the existing middle school, it would need to ask district patrons for funds for the new middle school and elementary school and it would not receive any matching funds from the state. That bond would be around $55.8 million.

Stark and Keller said the projects would not be monuments to architecture, but would be built conservatively, always keeping in mind how to better instruct the students.

Stark said voters in the Cheney district have always been supportive of the schools. He said he has heard back from many people around town that they will support the bond.

As a resident in the district himself, he is appreciative his taxes won’t go up.

“It appeals to me as a taxpayer,” he said.

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