Cheney mulls school bond

$79 million would build three facilities

The board of directors of Cheney Public Schools may decide in November to put a $79 million bond in front of voters as early as February to build two new middle schools and an elementary school.

“We’re out of core common space,” said Superintendent Larry Keller. Cheney Middle School now serves more than 930 students in a building that was built to serve 700. The district has relied on portable buildings to house some physical education and other classes, but common space, such as the lunchroom, is still at a premium. The school now has three lunch periods and serves more than 300 students in each one.

In a district that covers a very large geographical area where enrollment is still growing despite an economic downturn, Keller said that the district has added 30 portable buildings throughout the district to house all the students.

By spring, the district is expected to have about 3,698 full-time enrolled students. By 2016, the district is projected to serve 4,403 students. The middle school is projected to serve 1,084 students in 2014.

“We can feel and see the growth,” Keller said.

Keller said the district received a grant to consult with an architectural firm to discuss the current middle school’s needs and they were presented with two options for the 30-year-old building. They could expand the existing building and modernize it for an estimated cost of $35 million, or build a new one for an estimated $37 million.

But Keller said that studies have shown that middle schools serving 500 to 700 students seem to be the right size.

“We’re already over that,” Keller said. The district would need another middle school near Windsor Elementary School to serve more students.

If approved by voters, property owners in the district – a large area that serves students from Fishtrap to Airway Heights to U.S. Highway 195, about 380 square miles – would pay $4.96 per $1,000 of assessed value a year. The two new middle schools would be covered by the bond and the district would receive about $18 million in matching funds from the state. The new elementary school could be built with those funds.

The bond needs a supermajority – 60 percent of the voters – to be approved.

Brian Aiken, chief financial officer of Cheney Public Schools, said taxpayers are now paying $2.53 per $1,000 for the continuing maintenance and operations levy, $1.52 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the most recent capital and technology levy, which will end 2010, and 93 cents per $1,000 to pay off the debt of the last bond, which will end in the fall of 2014.

“As a district, we’re in really good shape financially as far as outstanding debt,” Aiken said. He added that the district is trying to keep the total tax rate at or below $6 per $1,000.

“We’re very sensitive to the economic conditions that we live in,” Keller said. But with the cost of construction being lower than usual, he said, it’s a good time to build the schools. Keller hopes to open the first new middle school by the fall of 2012.

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