Ballots arrive in mailboxes this week

Washougal School District seeks bond measure

A second patron tour of selected Washougal schools will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday at the district office, 4855 Evergreen Way, for community members to better familiarize themselves with the three buildings most heavily impacted by the Feb. 10 bond election.

"The first tour we offered in December was very well received," said Dawn Tarzian, Washougal School District superintendent. "Attendees appreciated the opportunity to go into Jemtegaard Middle School, Excelsior High School and the district bus garage and see the needs first hand that will be addressed by the bond."

To reserve a spot, call Cassi Marshall at 954-3005.

A second patron tour of selected Washougal schools will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday at the district office, 4855 Evergreen Way, for community members to better familiarize themselves with the three buildings most heavily impacted by the Feb. 10 bond election.

“The first tour we offered in December was very well received,” said Dawn Tarzian, Washougal School District superintendent. “Attendees appreciated the opportunity to go into Jemtegaard Middle School, Excelsior High School and the district bus garage and see the needs first hand that will be addressed by the bond.”

To reserve a spot, call Cassi Marshall at 954-3005.

Voters in the Washougal School District will be asked to approve a $57.68 million bond on Feb. 10.

If approved, it would fund projects including a new elementary school and new middle school, as well as a small high school to replace the building currently used by Excelsior High School students.

The bond would also support construction of a new transportation facility, safety improvements at all seven of the district’s schools, as well as a series of other upgrades and repairs to existing schools.

“These particular improvements were identified as the most important to ensuring our Washougal school facilities support a safe, positive environment for student learning and success,” said Dawn Tarzian, district superintendent.

The bond is projected to increase taxpayer rates by 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. For the owner of a $300,000 home, taxes would increase by approximately $144 per year.

In addition to the new school buildings and bus barn, every school’s front entryway will be remodeled to require all visitors to first enter the office before gaining access to the school’s internal hallways.

Additionally, locks on all district classroom doors will be updated to allow the door to be locked from the inside during a crisis lock down situation.

Currently, staff must step into the hallway to lock the door. Old portables will also be removed so that students can stay within the main school building. At Washougal High School, security cameras will be replaced and vehicle gates and fencing will be added to increase campus safety.

Jemtegaard, built in 1981, will be replaced with a new building that is a combined kindergarten through eighth-grade campus with room for 1,000 students.

The current “open air pod-style” design was popular in Washington in the early 1980s, due in part to the fact that state school construction matching dollars only funded actual classroom space, Tarzian noted.

“The impact of the weather on the building materials used, the high energy costs to heat and reheat internal spaces every time a classroom door is opened to the outside gorge weather, and the safety of children in a building that cannot be secured were not anticipated when the old school design was selected,” she said. “JMS is over capacity, has small classrooms, depends on the use of worn out portables for class space and has outdated and insufficient amenities for today’s educational and safety needs of our students.”

The school was built for 322 students, and there are currently 494.

A decision was made to build the new school at the current site, instead of to the north, where future development could occur, based on the need for the next 10 years.

“Jemtegaard and Gause schools serve students currently living in ‘downtown’ Washougal, in attendance boundaries that encompass the south and east portions of our community,” Tarzian said. “Enrollment has grown in town such that even with these old portables, we will not have room for students who are projected to enroll our school system next year.”

She added that the city of Washougal anticipates population growth in the north in 10 to 20 years, and the district’s long range plan includes acquiring additional property as the city develops the infrastructure for the anticipated growth.

Tarzian noted the city’s community development director, Mitch Kneipp, is a long range planning committee member.

An earlier bond, passed in 2000, is due to expire in 2019. After studying the issue, it was determined that waiting a few more years to put the capital bond measure on the ballot would not reduce the cost to the voters, but could reduce the buying power of the taxpayer dollar, reducing the number of projects that could be completed, according to Tarzian.

“The timing of this capital bond request could not be better in terms of the buying power of our local taxpayer dollar,” she said. “Washington is still experiencing very low construction rates. That, coupled with low interest rates, means that the buying power of our local taxpayers would be very strong.”

If the bond is approved, the School Board has adopted a financial plan that keeps the taxpayer cost increase to 48 cents per $1,000 until 2025, at which time it will drop down to the current rate of $1.62 per $1,000 for the final 10 years.

Rene Carroll, a community member, is chairing the “Vote Yes for Safe Schools” committee.

“Passing a bond is the only way for school districts to fund necessary capital improvements,” she said. “If not approved, the district will have no other choice than to ask for another bond in the near future. Interest rates and construction costs are favorable right now, but are expected to rise. To prolong this process will only increase the tax burden to citizens.

“Great schools are a selling point for our community. They encourage businesses to relocate here, provide jobs, and make investments in our community.”

She urges citizens to cast their ballots.

“I recently heard some alarming statistics that the most recent Camas bond passed by 41 votes, and a La Center bond was lost by 25,” Carroll said. “If citizens feel like their votes don’t matter, that is not the case in this election. Everyone who believes in public education, whether you have kids in the schools or not, needs to vote for approval of this bond for it to pass with the necessary 60 percent plus one margin.”

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