The Camas School Board this week approved a six-year capital facilities plan that includes an estimated $210 million worth of school facilities projects the district could need to serve a growing student population over the next six years.
“We’re not obligated to do any of these,” the school district’s director of business services, Jasen McEathron, told school board members on Monday, May 23. “We are talking about likely options we’ll need to address if we’re to deal with capacity issues.”
Camas School District voters passed a $120 million capital facilities bond in 2016 that helped build the district’s newest schools — Lacamas Lake Elementary and Discovery High — and increased building capacity across the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Now, McEathron said, two of the district’s three middle schools — Odyssey and Liberty — are starting to experience “some capacity constraints.”
“At Odyssey, the program is popping, and they’ve been very creative to accommodate students interested in being in that middle school program,” McEathron said. “There is some opportunity to potentially accommodate more students … but we could have two of three middle schools with capacity issues within the next six years.”
Though the district could get away with remodeling and adding portables to accommodate student growth over the next few years, McEathron said Camas “may have to entertain (building) another middle school” if housing development in the area “really takes off” between 2022 and 2028.
The district also may have some capacity issues at Camas’ largest elementary school, Woodburn Elementary, in the next few years, McEathron said.
“There is enough building going on (in Woodburn neighborhoods) that they could potentially have capacity issues, too,” he said.
The six-year facilities plan includes potential projects the district could seek funding for by 2028. The costs associated with all of the projects are estimates based on 2022 costs. Those projects include:
- $100 million to construct a new middle school, adding capacity for 850 students;
- $87 million to improve the “Leadbetter Campus” – a 57.6-acre site that includes the former Underwriters Laboratories (UL) commercial building – to add capacity for 500 students;
- $15 million for an Odyssey Middle School addition to accommodate 100 students;
- $7 million for property acquisition;
- $500,000 for a portable at Woodburn Elementary that would add capacity for 48 students; and
- $500,000 for a portable at Liberty Middle School to accommodate 60 students.
“Thanks to the 2016 bond, which provided an increase in educational facility capacity of 192 students at the elementary level, 360 students in middle school and 600 students in high school, many of the projected number of students by 2028 can be accommodated in the District’s existing educational facilities and portable classrooms, except that there will be a need to increase capacity at the middle school level, and slightly at elementary school level.
Like other public school districts in Washington state, Camas saw its student enrollment decline during 2020 and 2021, when public health mandates meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 shuttered school buildings.
Camas served 7,412 students in 2019 and 7,045 students in 2021. Current enrollment projections show the district expects “no further enrollment loss” and a gradual recovery to its pre-COVID numbers over the next four to five years, McEathron said.
The district’s enrollment forecast, prepared by Eric Hovee of E.D. Hovee & Company, LLC, in February 2020 and updated in December 2021, predicts Camas will gain 442 elementary, 142 middle and 105 high school students by 2028.
School board OKs higher impact fees
The capital facilities plan also addresses new development that could add students into the district over the next six years.
To help ensure new development helps pay for its associated infrastructure needs, the state’s Growth Management Act allows local governments to charge a one-time fee — an impact fee — on new developments to pay for things like school facilities, public streets, parks and fire stations.
The Camas School District calculates its impact fees using a formula that takes into consideration fee ordinances set by all of the jurisdictions — Camas, Washougal and Vancouver and Clark County — that feed into the school district.
The school board unanimously approved a slight increase to the district’s impact fees imposed on new single-family and multi-family residential developments: increasing the single-family and multi-family residential rates from $5,371 to $6,650.
The board could have increased its impact fees on multi-family residential developments to as much as $29,731, but board members said they wanted to keep the district’s impact fees the same for single-family and multi-family residential developments.
The school district does not have enough multi-family residential developments to properly assess the impact these developments could have on Camas’ future student capacity needs, so McEathron said state law requires Camas look to larger school districts in the region to gauge how many new students these future multi-family developments might add to Camas’ student population.
Compared to other Clark County school districts, the Ridgefield School District, which has struggled to pass construction bonds, currently has the highest impact fee rate ($10,100) for multi-family residential developments.
McEathron said the board had decided six years ago to set the district’s single-family residential impact fees at the maximum level ($5,371) and keep the multi-family residential rate around half of the maximum allowed rate of “just over $10,000.”
On Monday, board members discussed increasing the multi-family residential impact fee to a rate closer to the $29,731 maximum allowable rate.
“I know developers pay this fee, but it gets passed down to the homeowners,” board member Tracey Malone said Monday, adding that she worried increasing the district’s impact fees on multi-family residential developments could have a negative impact on affordability.
“I appreciate that,” board member Erika Cox said, “but … if this is such a desirable place for developers to build, I wonder if that (the higher impact fee) would hinder them. I feel like it wouldn’t.”
Some board members worried not increasing the multi-family impact fee rate now would lead to an even greater discrepancy between the district’s rate and the maximum allowable rate in the future.
Board member Doug Quinn pointed out that the board had already set its multi-family impact fee rate at half of the maximum and that even raising it to $10,000 would mean the rate was around one-third the allowed maximum.
“There is a strategy that growth should support itself as reasonably as we can,” Quinn said. “I don’t want to see us get even further behind.”
Board member Connie Hennessey wondered if a major increase to the multi-family impact fee rate would even benefit Camas in the near future considering the fact that the city tends to attract more single-family residential developments.
“Are we chasing a number that is irrelevant to us?” Hennessey asked Monday.
McEathron said the multi-family developments being built in areas like Vancouver “may not come into our community and may not even be approved by the city.”
In the end, the board voted unanimously to keep the impact fee rates the same for single-family and multi-family residential developments. Both will be charged a one-time fee of $6,650 through 2028 to help pay for the added strain on the local school district’s facility needs.