August 05, 2001 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

What are the needs of the La Grande School Districts classroom buildings and what financial resources will be required to maintain them?

A citizens facility committee is being formed by the school district to answer these and other questions.

The committee will evaluate the conditions of the school districts classroom buildings and determine what it will cost to continue operating them. Committee members will be provided with score sheets to help them evaluate the condition of roofs, plumbing, windows, floor coverings and much more.

The committee might decide that extensive remodeling work is needed. If it does, the committee would then determine if the work could be done with existing funds or if a bond levy would be needed to pay for remodeling.

Should the committee determine that a bond levy is needed, the committees members would help conduct a telephone survey of 400 people in La Grande and Island City. The survey would determine the likelihood of voters supporting a bond levy of a set amount.

The committee will look at all classroom buildings but will focus on the school districts elementary school buildings. Riveria and Willow elementary are the districts two oldest schools.

Riveria was built in 1912 and Willow opened in 1924.

One of the many factors the facilities committee will evaluate is whether it will be feasible for the school district to continue operating five elementary schools in the face of declining enrollment.

The school district has lost more than 500 students since 1991. As a result, the cost per pupil of operating the elementary schools is high.

The La Grande School Board has discussed a number of proposals to address this issue. They include closing some schools and building a new, larger, more efficient school and moving sixth-graders to La Grande Middle School.

La Grande School Superintendent Dan Arriola emphasized that no steps have been taken regarding these proposals. He noted, for example, that rumors that land has been purchased for a new school are not true.

The facilities committee will not be asked to consider any of these proposals. It will be free, though, to develop such proposals on its own.

Anyone who would like to serve on the facilities committee should call Gary Howland, the school districts plant operations director, at 663-3229.

The application deadline is Aug. 13. The committee will have at least 30 members and will conduct its first meeting on Aug. 22.

The committees final recommendation to the school board will be made in late fall.