Panel lays out $31.8M plan

By Dick Mason, The Observer February 28, 2014 09:35 am

The Long Term Facilities Planning Committee for the  La Grande School District is proposing that Central Elementary School, which opened in 1954, be replaced because of the extensive renovation work it needs.
The Long Term Facilities Planning Committee for the La Grande School District is proposing that Central Elementary School, which opened in 1954, be replaced because of the extensive renovation work it needs.

Proposal includes $14.6 million structure to replace aging Central Elementary

Central Elementary School opened in 1954, the same year the groundbreaking Nikon S2 camera hit the marketplace.

Sixty years later, Central Elementary looks picture perfect from a distance, but looks can be deceiving. 

Central is in need of major repair and renovation work so extensive that the La Grande School District’s Long Term Facilities Planning Committee is recommending that a new building be constructed to replace the aging building.

The committee is making the suggestion as part of a $31.8 million package of building and maintenance projects in the school district. The committee’s proposals were presented to the La Grande School Board Wednesday.

The board will study the committee’s recommendations as its decides whether to seek a bond levy for renovation and capital construction later this year. 

The replacement of Central is the big ticket item of the committee’s $31.85 million package. The school has $3.8 million worth of repair and construction needs facilities committee member John Warness said during a powerpoint presentation to the school board. The consensus of committee members is that $3.8 million is too high considering that it is 40 percent of what it would cost to replace Central. 

“The universal feeling among committee members is that it doesn’t make sense to put money into Central,” said Joe Justice, a member of the Long Term Facilities Committee and the
La Grande School Board.

La Grande Mayor Dan Pokorney, also a member of the facilities committee, is among those who believe that replacing Central rather than renovating it would be a good idea.

“If you build something new, it will revitalize the community. Patchwork is not going to work,” Pokorney said.

If Central is renovated, much of the money would cover the replacement of its deteriorating roof, the renovation of its heating system and the purchase of new windows.

“There is too much wrong with the building related to heating, space, layout and windows that the committee felt a total replacement was a high priority,” the committee’s report states.

It would cost $9.6 million to replace Central as it stands today. The facilities committee is proposing, though, that a larger $14.6 million structure be built to replace it on what is now Central’s play field. The new building would have significantly more classroom space, eliminating the need for the modulars Central has for four classrooms. It would also provide the space Central needs for all-day kindergarten classes, something the state will begin providing school districts with the funding for starting in 2015-16, Warness said. 

Presently, all kindergarten instruction in the district is half day and provided at Willow Elementary School. The school district wants to move kindergarten classes back into its neighborhood elementary schools, allowing kindergarten students to have improved access to counseling, media and special education services, according to La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze.

The committee’s proposal also calls for classroom space to also be added at Greenwood and Island City elementary schools so those schools have enough room for full-day kindergarten. 

Major capital construction projects also recommended by the committee include the addition of an industrial arts building at the high school. Pokorney noted that when people discuss the La Grande economy, a number of people say they want the school district to provide more in terms of vocational education opportunities.

“This space would go a long way with voters,” Pokorney said.

Renovation work recommended for the school district includes floor and bleacher improvements in the high school gym, security work, improvements to help buildings meet federal Americans with Disability Act codes and electrical and heating renovations. 

The $31.8 million in renovation and construction recommended by the committee could be paid for through a bond levy which would cost taxpayers $1.99 a year per $1,000 of assessed property value. 

“History shows that a bond has a much better chance if you keep (what property owners pay per $1,000 of assessed value) under $2,” said committee member Ken Shelton.

A $1.99 rate would mean that the owner of a $100,000 house would pay an additional $199 annually in property taxes. 

The facilities committee, which had close to 50 members, was chaired by La Grande School Board member Greg Blackman. The school board will discuss the committee’s recommendations at its March 12 meeting.

Contact Dick Mason at 541-786-5386 or dmason Follow Dick on Twitter lgoMason.