Board votes to build new CHS

Gazette-Times reporter

In a surprise facilities vote at its Monday night meeting, the Corvallis School Board agreed by the narrowest of margins to build a new Corvallis High School.

The board's 4-3 decision to rebuild the high school on Buchanan Avenue and 11th Street would cost the Corvallis School District as much as $9.5 million more than the option to modernize and remodel the school.

The vote was not announced prior to the meeting, and the Corvallis High School facilities discussion was listed as an information item on the agenda. However, several board members said they felt ready to make the decision, even against the recommendations of staff and administration to allow more time for a public process that would include forums and other meetings.

School board Chairman Bill Ten Pas said he was frustrated with the process and encouraged the board to start making facility decisions.

"I don't think we're the done-deal group. We're the no deal group," Ten Pas said. "We were elected to make decisions. If the public's unhappy, they can attend forums."

Ten Pas, board members Robert Baldwin and Barbara Ross, and newly sworn member Joan Demarest voted to build a new school. Members Bob Johnson, Cyrel Gable and Ron Miller were opposed. Several board members said they wanted to keep alive the possibility that the district could still ask voters to approve a bond in November to begin the first phase of facilities-related work. The estimated $71 million bond would now include the construction cost of a new high school and middle school and other deferred maintenance needs. No timeline was set for the high school project.

Before the meeting, district Superintendent Jim Ford said he thought the board was ready to put the brakes on the district's facilities plans to allow staff to focus on making transitions after the closure and consolidation committee's decision. This group will recommend later this month the closure of three of the 11 elementary schools, at least one by this fall. The committee could also forward alternatives to closing elementary schools that would instead close one, two or all three middle schools next year.

At the board meeting, Ford said the district had built momentum around the facilities plan until the governor announced his school funding package. In the wake of that announcement, district officials said they'd need to trim $1.5 to $2 million in services during the 2001-02 school year.

"We hit the skids when we realized we didn't have enough money to operate schools," said Ford. "I would say we're in this conversation because we're afraid of losing momentum, that time's not on our side. We need to relax the whole process."

Jeanne Holmes, an assistant to the superintendent, said many of the people needed to conduct the public forums on the facilities bond would be immersed in the transitions related to the closure and consolidation recommendation. After the meeting, Holmes said she didn't know whether the district would go forward with the facilities forums or what the process would be.

Before the vote, board member Johnson said he favored building a new high school over remodeling, but he thought the community would be upset it wasn't involved in the decision. He said he wasn't prepared to make an important decision about the high school Monday and asked for the board to delay the decision.

"We already have this reputation as the done-deal group," Johnson said. "I'm usually not a process grunt ... we need an opportunity for input."

Fred Wright, facilities director for the district, said remodeling Corvallis High would cost about $36.5 million. Building a new school would cost between $44 and $46 million, Wright said.

CHS student representative to the board Nancy Raskauskas said she would vote "no" if she could on the decision. Raskauskas said students she'd talked to at the school were split between remodeling or rebuilding. Many teens also had questions and concerns about what would happen to them during construction.

"Students want to know if it would effect the projects at Dixon Creek or the trees out front. Would it be built up or in a big wheel?" Raskauskas asked. "It makes a big difference because of the space it's on."

Prior to the regular board meeting Monday, members met in a 45-minute work session to talk about the 15-year impact the district's facilities plan could have on local taxpayers. For the first time, officials put dollar figures to the first phase of the facilities plan. The district found it would cost more than $125 million to bring all the schools up to safety and efficiency standards in a 2000 study by engineers and architects. The school board could decide to put a bond measure on the November ballot or wait until the following year or later to address the facilities plan.

The $71 million cost estimate for a bond to begin the first phase of the facilities work included building a new high school, a new middle school to replace Highland View and Western View, and addressing all the deferred maintenance needs.

District officials tentatively said they would also ask voters to finish the facilities upgrades in subsequent bonds, a $59 million bond in 2006-07 and a $49 million bond in 2011-12.

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