February 20, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

A north La Grande schools days may be numbered.

It appears likely that Riveria Elementary School will be closed at the end of this school year or in June 2003.

The possibility seems imminent following a school board meeting Wednesday in which the recommendations of the school districts facilities committee were presented to the board.

The facilities committee recommended that Riveria be closed at the end of the 2002-03 school year. The committee also recommended that a $14 million bond levy for school facilities improvements be placed before the voters on May 21.

The school board voted to accept the committees report but did not take action regarding the recommendations. The committees report and recommendations will be discussed in detail at a school board work session Feb. 27. The work session begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of the districts administration building on Highway 30. The board cannot take action at a work session.

Superintendent Dan Arriola said following the meeting that there is a high probability that Riveria will be closed in the next 1 1/2 years.

Riveria, built in 1912, is La Grandes oldest public school building. The mortar in the bricks is not sound and its heating system is inefficient.

Closing Riveria would save the district about $359,000 a year. The savings would be critical because of the tight budget situation the school district is in because of declining enrollment.

The school district has open classroom space in all of its other four elementary schools because enrollment is down. Riverias students would be sent to all four schools in 2002-03 if the school is closed in June.

Steps will be taken to ease the transition process for Riverias students if the school is shut down this year. Arriola said that all of the schools students would be

kept with the children in the classes they would have been in if Riveria had remained open. They also would be assigned the same teacher they would have had at Riveria.

Many of the children probably already know these teachers, Arriola said.

The school district would add two to three bus runs in 2002-03 so that Riverias students could be transported to different schools.

The enrollment boundaries for the districts elementary schools would be redrawn next year if Riveria is closed in June.

Bond levy

The school districts facilities committee, made up of community members, did not specify how it thought that the money from a $14 million bond levy should be spent for facility improvements. The ways that the money could best be spent will be discussed at the work session. The facilities committee earlier determined that all of the classroom buildings in the school district need significant maintenance work.

On Wednesday board member Steve Joseph said that he believes that having a bond levy election in May would be too soon.

He noted that a plan is not in place for how the bond levy funds would be spent.

The committee has done a tremendous job but the board has not done its work, Joseph said.

Joseph said that the school district could hurt its credibility by going to the voters too early. The filing date for a May 21 bond levy election would be March 21.

The school district also has the option of holding bond levy elections on Sept. 17 or Nov. 5.

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