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Sunday, August 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Post Falls to vote on school levy, bond

A student walks past one of the portable classrooms at Prairie View Elementary in Post Falls on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)
A student walks past one of the portable classrooms at Prairie View Elementary in Post Falls on Monday. (Kathy Plonka)

Population growth in Post Falls was putting pressure on its schools a decade ago, but officials held off asking voters for help when the economy soured and was slow to rebound.

“It’s time,” Superintendent Jerry Keane said. “We delayed it as long as we can.”

The Post Falls School District has a $19.5 million bond measure on the March 10 ballot to build a new school and expand or upgrade others. The district also is asking voters to renew its two-year supplemental levy to collect up to $4.7 million a year for school operations.

If approved, the measures would not increase taxes because other construction debt is about to be paid off and some is being refinanced, the district said.

About $10 million of that would be used to build a new elementary school for 500 students on the community’s fast-growing east side, easing pressure on Prairie View and Ponderosa elementary schools. The school would open in fall 2016 on North Greensferry Road near Post Falls High School.

“Prairie View Elementary is untenable,” Keane said. “We have six portable classrooms there and 670 students in a building built for 550.”

Another $4 million would be spent adding a second story with 12 new classrooms at River City Middle School, which is 45 students over capacity and bracing for 50 additional kids next school year. It’s so crowded now that some teachers are mobile, moving their stuff around on carts from room to room.

At Post Falls High, the district hopes to add a performing arts auditorium and an auxiliary gymnasium at a cost of $4.5 million. Music and drama groups have performed in the school commons since the high school was built 14 years ago.

“Every school of our size has a performing arts theater with seating for 400 to 600,” Keane said. “To me, it’s about completing that school and honoring the students we have out there. They deserve to have it.”

The high school expansion may help delay the need for a second high school, which the district projects will be needed in about seven years, depending on growth rates, Keane said.

The remaining $1 million from the bond would go toward two new classrooms at West Ridge Elementary School, security enhancements in all buildings, and energy efficiency and heating upgrades at various schools.

Some district buildings are more than 60 years old and still have original windows. That includes the Frederick Post building housing kindergarten and the New Vision Alternative High School.

“Our goal is to give some love to our older buildings,” Keane said. “We haven’t had the luxury to retire any old buildings. As a growing district, there is never enough space.”

District enrollment has ballooned by 650 students since 2004, an increase of 13 percent.

“There’s no doubt we’ll continue to grow,” Keane said. “But let’s say it was static: The need is still there.”

A district committee in 2008 recommended expanding school capacity back then, but officials held off due to the recession. Seven years later, the district is significantly behind schedule on meeting those needs, Keane said.

“It is really an ideal time to get some of these projects done,” he added. The construction industry is still highly competitive and interest rates remain historically low, which will save money over the life of the 20-year bond, he said.

Post Falls voters last approved a school bond in 2006 to build West Ridge Elementary School, add eight classrooms at the high school, build a transportation facility and buy land for a second high school.

The two-year operating levy would bring in a bit more money to help the district catch up with replacing older school buses, textbooks and technology.

“We’re trying to be as conservative as possible yet deliver the programs our community expects for our kids,” Keane said. “That’s the balance we always do in the district.”

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