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District gearing up for bond issue

The South Kitsap School District could start planning this fall for a bond measure totaling up to $117 million to build a new high school and make capital upgrades to other schools — but only if voters approve it on a spring 2007 ballot.

School district officials heard from a task force at a special board meeting on June 12 that made four chief recommendations to improve aging and overcrowded schools. Among the recommendations included construction of a new high school to alleviate overcrowding at South Kitsap High and allow for the district to make both high schools grades 9-12, instead of 10-12, as it is now.

The price tag for the school would be $100 to 107 million.

Terri L. Patton, assistant superintendent of business and support services, said officials will bring the school board more information about state matching funds and bond financing. They will also hold two special meetings in August in preparation for introducing a potential bond this fall.

“There’s definitely a positive excitement about the project,” Patton said. “But there’s also concern about the cost getting too high.”

In addition to the high school, other recommendations from the task force included:

n upgrading technical infrastruc-ture, including electrical power at all schools ($3.1 million);

n making major capital improvements, including HVAC and roof upgrades, at all schools ($4 million); and,

n upgrading physical fitness and athletic facilities ($3 million).

A proposal to replace South Colby Elementary School received 73 percent support from the task force and still could be considered, at a cost of $15 to 18 million, Patton said.

A proposal to upgrade Cedar Heights Elementary was among six to eight other items rejected by the group.

School officials wary of going to voters for money because of past levy failures say they hope the current movement to “revitalize” downtown Port Orchard will help generate enthusiasm for much-needed school improvements.

School Board President Keith Garton pointed to recent construction of a new bridge and courthouse, as well as discussions of foot-ferry service and improving Bay Street as one reason why growth in schools must keep up.

“What’s the first question people ask when they move to an area: ‘How are the schools,’ ” Garton said. “This is a case of, as long as we can show the voters they can get a good value on something that will improve the entire community, they’ll vote for it.”

Unlike past levy failures and current levy obligations, the school district actually retired its bond debt three years ago. Garton acknowledged taxpayers will have to step up to make the new improvements, but he said the issue of adding a new high school has been discussed since the 1980s — the last time an ill-prepared bond referendum failed.

“The idea of a new high school has been kicked around for 20 years,” he said. “We’re finally to a point where we have the opportunity to do something about it.”

The district has finalized purchase of 56 acres in McCormick Woods, but Garton emphasized the timeline for construction on a new high school is four years.

“The longer it takes, we pass this on to the next group of kids, and the next...” he said. “We have to be realistic. The quicker we can decide this is a good thing, the better.”

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