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Improvements to current facilities a focus of proposed Estacada School District $22.9M general obligation bond

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - A proposed $22.9 million general obligation bond that voters will consider in the May election would focus on improving current Estacada School District facilities.

If voters approve a $22.9 million general obligation bond during an election this May, leaders at the Estacada School District hope to update buildings to continue to serve students well.

"We're really asking permission to extend the life of our facilities that we currently have," said Estacada School District Superintendent Ryan Carpenter. "How can we upgrade the systems and structures that we have in place to meet the needs of today's learners?"

During a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 13, the Estacada School Board voted to place the $22.9 million bond on the May 19 ballot. The bond would be paid back within 16 years.

Funds from the bond would support a variety of projects at Estacada schools, including installing and upgrading security camera systems; providing air quality improvements through filtration, HVAC controls and classroom air conditioning; ADA improvements; electrical system improvements; roofing and plumbing projects; improved classroom lighting and controls; creating information technology infrastructure; parking lot repaving; cafeteria renovations; and court, stadium and field improvements. It would also address overcrowding by adding classrooms at one or both of the district's elementary schools.

If approved, the bond would cost taxpayers within the Estacada School District an additional $1 per $1,000 of their home's assessed property value. For the area's median residential assessment of $209,472, this would be $209.47 per year to the homeowner.

In addition to the May bond, Estacada schools are on the waiting list for a grant of up to $4 million from the Oregon School Capital Improvement Match, if voters approve the bond.

Previously, voters said no to a $55.1 million general obligation bond for the Estacada School District in 2016.

"Our 2016 failed campaign told us a lot about what the community's priorities are for facilities," said Maggie Kelly, communications director for the Estacada School District.

School district leaders have spent time engaging with community members about a potential bond. In September, a task committee with school staff, school board members and community members was formed. The district has hosted several town hall meetings in which community members discussed a potential bond.

During last month's school board meeting, district leaders noted that 220 staff members were engaged through meetings about the bond, 102 community members attended town hall meetings and 18,000 pieces of mail were sent out.

"It was crucial listening to community input during that time period and coming back with a modest and reasonable ask that we think honors our community," Kelly said. "The big bulk of this bond is just doing things that need to be done. Although it's not the most visible thing, when we talked with our community members, and with our staff, and the whole broader community, that came out on top. (The bond is) really just trying to honor taxpayer funded facilities and extend their use."

The bond's projects will enhance school buildings through increased security, including controlled access for all schools, additional security cameras and moving Estacada High School's office to the front of the building. There will also be technology upgrades, such as increased electrical outlets in each classroom.

PMG PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - The Estacada School District's proposed $22.9 million general obligation bond will help fund the creation of additional classroom space for elementary school students, since the district has seen student population growth at that level.

Preparing for larger groups of learners

Along with updates to all school buildings, the bond will also address the district's growing student population. With an influx of new residents, Estacada schools have seen an increase of students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and one of the bond's projects would be to add classrooms at Clackamas River or River Mill elementary schools, or both locations.

"We are a growing and transforming community. As we continue to grow specifically with younger families we need to start addressing capacity issues as well," Carpenter said. "The (student) growth at this point has been slow and manageable in ways that we're able to start to prepare, and what we're trying to do right now is really try to make more available learning spaces for our new students to come in and be a part of our district."

District leaders noted that the former Eagle Creek Elementary School is occupied by Summit Learning Charter, whom they described as "great stewards of that building."

"It's pretty easy to look around and see that the growth is occurring here (in Estacada)," Kelly said. "We're really dedicated to neighborhood schools and we love this campus feel."

Creating spaces for lifelong learning

Another focus of the bond will be creating a space at Estacada High School where students can take college level courses.

"We're hoping to kind of create an atmosphere at the high school that students who walk into this new chord or in the high school facility that it feels like it's a place of higher education learning that is taught by college instructors or our own faculty," Carpenter said.

District leaders hope to see increased numbers of students graduating with college credits, but noted that the distance between Estacada and higher learning institutions sometimes makes this difficult.

"It's more of a challenge for us to feasibly get our kids to that campus and bring them back in a reasonable and efficient amount of time," Carpenter said. "Through this bond process, it's our priority and objective to try to bring Clackamas Community College to us and create this type of facility space (for) that to happen."

The new space would be in part of the high school's current facility rather than an expansion. It would have a seperate exterior entrance and flexible classroom spaces.

"The high school is really built for about 1,200 kids, and at the moment we have 475, so we have quite a bit of usable space that can be repurposed to meet the needs of today's learner," Carpenter said.

The space would serve community members rather than solely Estacada students.

"We also need this space to be available for our community at large to take college level courses," Carpenter said, citing current Estacada college students who could potentially take some classes in town rather than driving to Oregon City. "We also want to make sure we have a space that's available for parents with families who are thinking about a career change or a job change."

In the coming months, Estacada School District leaders hope to continue to connect with community members in person, mailers and through technology like Facebook Live to share information about the proposed bond.

"We really want a broad and diverse outreach so that everyone has the opportunity to learn about how this bond would impact them. We have a lot of different stakeholder groups and a really geographically vast community," Kelly said.

Carpenter added that "the Estacada School District is the heartbeat of our community."

"(It's) a role we take very seriously is the future of our community that is right here in our school system now, and we hope that our community will continue to invest in that," he said.

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