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Washington Voices

District bond request is fourth since 2008

Thu., April 7, 2011

Maintenance worker Della Hedrick paints in the East Farms Elementary School boiler room that recently flooded because of the leaking roof. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Maintenance worker Della Hedrick paints in the East Farms Elementary School boiler room that recently flooded because of the leaking roof. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Ballots for the East Valley School District’s construction bond will be in the mail Friday. The district is asking voters to approve $33.75 million in local tax dollars to make improvements on its aging buildings.

This is the fourth construction bond voters have seen since March 2008, when the district asked voters to approve a $33 million bond. The bond required 60 percent approval to pass and only received 55 percent. In May that year, the district ran it again and received 57 percent. In February 2009, they tried it again, tweaking the request a little, and only 52 percent of the voters approved.

“That’s when the re-visioning process happened,” said Brian Wallace, executive director of operations, at one of a series of meetings he presented last month to discuss the district’s financial state.

East Valley has been asking voters to approve these bonds after a study and survey completed in 2006 revealed that its buildings were in desperate need of repair. Of all its buildings, Trent Elementary School was in the best shape – the survey revealed that it was in need of minor repair. Most needed major repair.

This school year has seen a roof leak at Trentwood Elementary School, a pipe burst in one of the classrooms at Skyview Elementary School and the doors frozen shut at Mountain View Middle School.

If approved, the bond would fund improvements in building safety and security, electrical, plumbing, roofing, HVAC, and flooring. It would also fund improvements in educational technology and construct 40 new classrooms and four new gymnasiums.

The district would also close its two middle schools, making the shift into a K-8 system. Declining enrollment in the district’s traditional classrooms – although its nontraditional programs are growing – has made keeping buildings built for more students economically unfeasible.

“Whether we reorganize or not, we must close buildings,” Wallace said. “(Whether we pass) the bond or not, we must close buildings.”

East Farms Elementary School has been open since 1979. It was renovated in 1996 after the last bond in East Valley passed.

“For the most part, the building is 1979 vintage,” said Principal Frank Brou. He said he heard from residents worried that it would be hard on residents to pay an extra 86 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“No, it’s not the right time,” Brou tells them. “Seven or eight years ago was the right time.”

But time has taken its toll on the building. The ground has settled in many places, turning the curbs around the sidewalks into trip hazards. The roof leaks throughout the building. The mortar is crumbling on the outside of the building. Some classrooms are really warm, while in others students keep their coats on to stay warm.

“The reason things look as good as they do is because of the maintenance and custodial staff,” Brou said.

Sherrie Potter isn’t in favor of the bond. She has been living in the district for over 50 years and said she was in the first seventh-grade class that attended East Valley Middle School. She has three children in the district.

Potter said she worries most about the economy and whether the district will get the $32.5 million in state matching funds to complete the project.

“That’s been my biggest reservation with it, whether the funds would really be matched or whether we would end up with something not done.”

She also doesn’t like the way information about the bond is distributed to voters.

“My other issue is the scare tactics they are putting out,” she said. “The last flier they sent out with a child wearing a coat in the school, I don’t think it’s much different than a lot of our homes. Not every room is going to have the same temperature in it. It’s a choice. Now, if our heating is 100 percent failing in a school building, then a furnace needs to be replaced. No different than in our homes and no different than we just did in our community center, and you find it in your budget and you do it.”

Potter said the district isn’t consistent with its actions. She said when the Continuous Curriculum School started, students were in portables next to Skyview Elementary.

“Then, when they wanted to push CCS into Skyview, into the building, they decided that portables weren’t safe for the students because they didn’t have any intercom system out there if there was a problem. So, all of Skyview, we got pushed down on one end so we could accommodate them in the school. Strangely enough, again this year, those portables are housing our Homelink program.”

East Valley’s construction bond and plans to move to a prekindergarten through eighth-grade elementary system have been contentious. But as combative as the issue has been, one parent, who declined to be identified, said, “People just want to do what is best for kids.”

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