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Bainbridge School District targets May for capital bond

With a deadline nearing for final approval, Bainbridge Island School District has honed its school construction bond proposal to $42 million.

The school board will likely vote to place the proposal on the ballot for the May 19 special election during its Feb. 26 meeting.

The latest draft of the proposed bond – presented to the school board last week – includes $32 million for the reconstruction of the aging Wilkes Elementary School. Another roughly $9 million would be used for building renovations, paving work and energy conservation projects throughout the district’s campuses.

The total bond request would weigh in at $42 million – down from earlier estimates of $47 million.

Capital projects director Tamela VanWinkle said the slowdown in the construction industry has helped drop the projected cost of the project. She said the “Bainbridge Island factor” – the historic reticence on the part of contractors to deal with the complexity of working on the island – appears to have also dissipated.

“Beause of our economic challenges we feel that it’s not a factor any longer,” VanWinkle told the school board. “We feel very confident that we can build the school for fewer dollars than we had anticipated.”

The district wants to bring a bond proposal that would fund the Wilkes rebuild without raising the district’s burden on taxpayers.

That would be possible because the district’s tax rate for existing capital levies was scheduled to drop sharply over the next several years.

VanWinkle said Wilkes bonds could be phased in over the next two years without boosting the amount taxpayers are currently paying to support school facilities.

If the bond proposal is approved in May, the district’s 2009 bond tax rate would be $1.15 per $1,000 of assessed value, compared to a $1.16 in 2008.

“We’re paying off existing bonds, but we’re replacing them with new bonds and keeping the tax burden flat,” VanWinkle said.

Bonds would be issued in two installments of $21 million.

School board President Mary Curtis said that keeping the levy rate low is one of the reasons the board is feeling comfortable bringing the proposal to voters.

Curtis said that that despite tough economic times, the district needs to stay on track with its facilities master plan, which maps out the replacement of district buildings.

“If we don’t move forward it will just put us farther behind,” Curtis said. “I think we’ve done our homework on our end and I think the community will step up and support us.”

The district plans to rebuild Wilkes on its current site. The project could be completed as early as 2011.

The district would likely bring another bond proposal to voters in 2012 or 2013 to fund the reconstruction Blakely Elementary.

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