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Nine Mile Falls, Cheney school districts try again on bonds

Lakeside students exercise during gym class in front of one of several doors leading into the gymnasium on Thursday in Nine Mile Falls. A major concern about the old Lakeside High School is security. The school features many entrances and exits that make modern school security procedures next to impossible. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Lakeside students exercise during gym class in front of one of several doors leading into the gymnasium on Thursday in Nine Mile Falls. A major concern about the old Lakeside High School is security. The school features many entrances and exits that make modern school security procedures next to impossible. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Voters in the Cheney and Nine Mile Falls school districts will be asked a second time to approve construction bonds for major renovations in their high schools.

Both districts proposed bonds in the February election. Cheney School District fell 2 percentage points short of the 60 percent needed for approval. Nine Mile Falls School District was more than 7 percentage points below the required supermajority.

After more community input, adding ballot measure information to district websites and offering high school tours, district officials are going back to voters. Ballots for the April 28 special election are expected to be mailed Friday.

“We’ve been committed to transparency,” and before asking voters to increase their taxes “we made sure we cut the want list down to a need list,” said Brian Talbott, the Nine Mile Falls superintendent.

Voters in the rural area north of Spokane are being asked to pass a $29.4 million bond to update and restructure Lakeside High School. Approval would add $1.35 per $1,000 assessed property value for a total property tax rate of $2.87 per $1,000.

“The No. 1 reason for the bond is safety,” Talbott said.

Lakeside High School is designed in the shape of an eagle with zigzag hallways spread out into two wings on one side of the building, the cafeteria and gym on the other side, and main entrances in the middle.

“I have had kids come into the school and go right into the lunch room. I have to stop them and ask: Who are you?” said Brent Osborn, the school’s principal. Parents wander in without checking in at the office.

A door at the end of the zigzag hallway stays unlocked so students can pass back and forth to portable classrooms.

“We have 10 entrances that aren’t really monitored,” Talbott said.

Cheney School District is seeking a $44.8 million bond package to expand its high school and pay for safety, security, heating, plumbing and electrical system upgrades. The estimated tax rate for the new bond is 75 cents per $1,000 assessed, which would be added to the current $1.87 rate. 

Safety is a primary concern in Cheney, too. Multiple portables sit in front of the high school, which was designed to hold 900 students but now has 1,200. Students stream in and out of multiple doors.

New construction would put all classrooms into one building and move administrative offices to the front near the main entrance. A secure entrance would be added as well.

Most schools have gone to a single point of entry so visitors must walk by or into a front office.

“We know we can’t prevent tragedies from happening, but we can be more diligent,” Talbott said. “Vigilance is our best friend, and we can’t do that right now.”

Expansion also is paramount in each district’s proposal. At Lakeside High, a small counseling center serves as a classroom, a supply closet doubles as a speech-therapy office, band performances are done at the middle school and there’s only one gym.

“Kids are practicing sports until 9 p.m. because there’s a single gym,” Osborn said.

Cheney officials want to expand the commons and cafeteria to make room for more students. The auditorium is too small for drama and music performances. Athletes have to be bused off campus for practices. The addition of a classroom wing would accommodate the classrooms now housed in portables.

“We know the need clearly and what our students are experiencing every day,” Cheney Superintendent Deb Clemens said. “If we could address it yesterday, we would.”

Talbott said he delayed asking voters to pass a bond during a down economy and waiting longer would only cost more money. “But there’s never a good time to ask for a new tax,” he said.


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