November 14, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Should Willow, Riveria and Island City elementary schools be closed and a new elementary school built in their place?

This is one of four options being considered by the La Grande School Districts citizens facilities committee. The committee is determining what should be done to address the school districts classroom building maintenance issue.

The options it is considering were presented to the school board on Wednesday. The committee has examined the condition of the districts buildings and the cost of upgrading them. It has been asked to make a recommendation to the board.

The option of closing Willow, Riveria and Island City elementary schools and building a new grade school is being considered for several reasons. It would ultimately save the school district $500,000 in annual staffing and utility expenses alone, according to the committees report.

The cost of maintaining Riveria and Willow are high because of their age. Riveria was built in 1912 and Willow was constructed in 1924. Island City Elementary is expensive to operate because its electrical heating system is inefficient and ineffective, the committee found. The cost of heating Island City per square foot is higher than any of the schools in the district.

A new school, large enough to serve 400 to 450 students, would cost $6.5 million. A bond would have to be approved by voters to finance construction of a new school.

Following are the three other options being considered by the committee. They were reviewed at Wednesdays board meeting by committee members Wendy Schrumm and Dan Mielke.

Close Riveria Elementary School.

Under this option the schools students and needed staff would be absorbed into other elementary schools. The move would save the school district $400,000 a year in staffing and utilities.

The report states that Riveria is not only expensive to operate but also would be dangerously unstable in the event of an earthquake because the school lacks reinforcing rods in its walls.

Phase two of this option calls for the school district to pass a bond to get money to upgrade facilities at all of its remaining buildings. About $12.8 million would be needed.

Close Willow and Riveria and modernize Island City Elementary.

This would save the school district about $500,000 a year in staffing and utility expenses. For this option to work, about $3.3 million would have to be spent to remodel and expand Island City Elementary. The money would be used to add six to eight new classrooms, two handicapped-accessible restrooms and a new gymnasium. In addition, other remodeling work would be done.

Move the school districts sixth-graders to La Grande Middle School and close Willow and Riveria.

Under this plan, five classrooms, two restrooms and a new roof would have to be added at the middle school. This would cost $1,873,000 and would have to be financed by a bond. Closing Willow and Riveria would save about $500,000 in staffing and utilities.

A flyer reviewing these options will be mailed to all households in the La Grande School District Nov. 26. On Dec. 3 an outside firm will begin conducting a telephone poll of 450 randomly selected school district patrons. They will be asked about the committees four options. Each person will also be asked if they would support a $14 million bond that would pay for needed plumbing and electrical work at all of the districts seven schools.

Surveyors will also ask patrons if they would support a $10 million bond to pay for ceiling, door and window work at all seven schools.

The facilities committee will analyze the survey results and make a recommendation to the school board in January or February.