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Wilkes, Blakely targeted for bonds

One school or two?

It’s the question facing the Bainbridge School District Board as it continues to refine a capital bond package to be put to voters in early 2009.

During a special work session Monday evening, it was obvious that the district would like to rebuild its aging Wilkes and Blakely elementary schools in coming years in accordance with the second phase of its 2005 facilities master plan.

But the board is considering two options for bringing the projects to fruition. The first option is a bond package in 2009 that would fund the reconstruction of Wilkes alone, with the intention of returning in 2013 with a bond proposal for Blakely. The second would ask voters to approve a single bond package in 2009 that would secure funding for both projects.

The first option – to rebuild Wilkes – would cost roughly $45 million. The second, about $76 million.

The district is currently collecting on a maintenance and operations levy and a technology levy with a projected tax rate of $1.18 per $1,000 assessed value in 2009. According to district consultant Dave Trageser of D.A. Davidson & Co., adding the Wilkes bond package would result in a $1.15 tax rate in 2010, when the district would otherwise collect $0.96.

If the bond package for Wilkes passed, the district would target an election in 2012 or 2013 to return with a $35 million proposal to reconstruct Blakely.

The $76 million bond option would rebuild both Wilkes and Blakely, with bonds likely issued in two installments. According to Trageser, that package would raise the the district’s tax rate for bonds by $0.27 in 2010.

The baseline price for rebuilding each school is about $35 million, but both packages considered included money for district-wide roofing projects and other repairs and improvements. The board will have the final say on what projects make the cut.

The first bond package holds several advantages in the eyes of board members and staff.

First, funding the projects in two smaller packages could be more appetizing for voters. Board member Mike Foley said sticking with “one vote, one school” option would allow the district to bring forward a simpler message.

“(The voters) can see that we are being methodical and working through the steps,” Foley said. “We could even bring the tax rate down at a time when economic news, for most folks, is at best hard to interpret and we have an enrollment issue to wade through.”

Separating the projects would also give the district flexibility to adjust any demographic and economic changes in the three years between bond packages.

The second, lumped option would have the advantage of nailing down funding for both projects without the uncertainty of a second election.

Under either option, the construction timeline would likely look the same. Wilkes would be built first and construction on Blakely would begin shortly after its completion.

Board and staff members are leaning strongly away from building both schools at once, mostly due to the logistical challenges it would pose for the schools and the district’s capital projects staff. Supt. Faith Chapel said that unlike Bainbridge, most school districts that construct schools simultaneously are starting with raw land.

“Managing two projects where your trying to work around kids, staff and parents elsewhere on campus becomes very difficult,” Chapel said.

District Facilities and Capital Projects Director Tamela VanWinkle said there is room on the campuses of both elementary schools for the new school buildings to be built without disrupting existing classrooms.

Under both bond options, some of the planning for the schools could happen simultaneously, and money could be included to “jump start” the development of the new Blakely school while Wilkes was under construction. Money could also be included to make interim repairs to existing Blakely buildings.

“One thing we need to look at is what will keep Blakely propped up for the next five years, because it is in urgent need of repairs,” board President Mary Curtis said.

The board will have the remainder of the fall to fine tune a bond proposal. The package will need to be finalized early in December to be placed on the February ballot, or in January for a March vote. April or May votes are also possible.

Clif McKenzie, a member of the district’s Citizen Advisory Committee, said the committee prefers the March election. He said it would give volunteers time to survey voters in advance of the election and raise awareness for the bond package without losing momentum.

“I like compressed time frames,” McKenzie said. “We get people in, we get people working and we get this done.”

A bond discussion is on the agenda of the next school board meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. this Thursday at the Woodward Middle School Library.

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