Lake Oswego School Board approves a $13.1 million plan to improve athletic facilities
Lake Oswego School Board members voted unanimously Monday to move forward with a $13.1 million plan to improve the district's athletic facilities, starting with a Lakeridge High School stadium roof and press box.
The district plans to use $1 million from its General Fund to pay for the improvements, along with all available Construction Excise Tax (CET) revenues available through June 2019 (expected to be about $2.65 million). In addition, the LOSD says it will secure a loan of approximately $6 million and leverage future CET funds to pay for it, with a maximum repayment amount of $475,000 a year over a period of 20 years (or $9.5 million).
In addition to the press box and a roof over stadium seating at Lakeridge, the money will go toward paying for an extra turf game field at LOHS; a new track with turf drainage at Lakeridge; a new track with extra lanes at LOHS; turf for the baseball field at Lakeridge; and resurfacing the tennis courts and adding lighting to those courts at LOHS.
The list of projects was compiled by the district's Athletic Facilities Task Force, which looked at more than two dozen possibilities before making its recommendations in February. The committee also urged the School Board to develop a "master plan" for athletics facilities districtwide, a process that is now expected to begin this summer.
Construction of the Lakeridge press box and stadium cover — at an estimated cost of $2.7 million — is expected to take place in the summer and fall of 2019, with the other projects contingent on completion of the master plan and tackled in order of priority.
All of the projects are in addition to work that is currently underway or planned in the coming months to upgrade facilities or address equity issues, using a combination of General Fund dollars, CET funds and private donations. These include weight rooms, turf softball fields and softball hitting facilities on both sides of the lake, among other projects.
The motion to approve the proposal Monday night received unanimous support from the board.
"Athletics are part of the core of the community," said board member Liz Hartman, "and if they are the core of the community, then we have to find a way to fund it."
Some community members have expressed concern over allocating future CET funds to the projects. CET dollars are collected by the City and distributed to the district based on the amount of construction in a given year, which means they are governed by the cyclical nature of the economy. But Interim Superintendent Michael Musick told The Review this week that he isn't worried about possible fluctuations.
According to Musick, the district receives between $400,000 and $600,000 a year in CET revenue and should have no problem paying $475,000 annually toward a loan.
"If we would wait until the money comes in, many of these high-dollar projects would take three or four years just waiting for the funding," he said. "So the board has said, 'Let's borrow against future revenues to make it happen now.' As long as construction is vibrant, we get additional funds."
Musick told the School Board that there are a lot of safety issues within the district's athletic facilities that this proposal would help address.
"I want every kid to experience athletic activities in our district," Musick said. "We are asking the board to allow us to move forward and address these things now."
Public comment at the meeting was solely in support of moving forward with the athletic facility improvements. Brenda Burdette, who served on the Athletic Facilities Task Force, urged the School Board to vote yes.
"I have heard from every single one of you that athletics is important," Burdette said. "Tonight you have a chance to step up and show that athletics is important. I'm encouraging you tonight to vote to support athletics. Do what's right for the students that use these facilities."
Lakeridge football coach Elvis Akpla also expressed his support for moving forward.
"It's really, really important that we act now," he said. "I really think that we need to use this opportunity to advance our community in the right way."
Referencing concerns about funding, Akpla said, "Whenever we have to make big decisions, there is going to be loss — some way, somehow."
Hartman expressed the most reluctance of any board member to support the proposal, saying she feared that the unpredictable nature of CET funds could have a negative impact on the district's bond rating and hurt the district during the next bond cycle.
"I don't want to approve something that is going to impact the future," she said. "I am concerned about the funding on this. I truly think that having the bond rating we did (for the $187 million bond measure approved by voters in May 2017) put us in a really good position, and I would hate to lose that if something were to go wrong with the CET funds."
But Assistant Superintendent Stuart Ketzler maintained that he and the district's budget committee believe the debts incurred as a result of the athletics proposal would only be "minor considerations" for future bond ratings.
Ketzler explained that "if CET collections were short in a particular year, and there was no carryover balance, then the General Fund would most likely have to make up that difference."
However, because CET rates typically increase every year, he said, the district would likely collect more money even with fluctuations in building activity.
Board member Rob Wagner moved for passage of the recommendations, saying he believes the believes the ends justify the means.
"In terms of CET, it's not the perfect funding source, and we know that," he said. "But it's not an excuse not to move forward with critical investments that need to be made right now, at this time."Board member Sara Pocklington expressed her support for multiple reasons. "The way that we invest in our facilities, including our athletic facilities, is a way to show prospective families and students that we value education and we value community," she said. "Growing up, sports were a huge part of my youth and my education. Watching my kids now enter into that world, I think this is an area we need to invest in."
ON THE AGENDA
In addition to approving a funding plan for athletic facility improvements on Monday, the School Board also:
• Selected Bob Barman as chair and Sara Pocklington as vice chair for 2018-19;
• Nominated Penelope Spurr from LOHS and Anne Marie Gunther from Lakeridge to serve as student representatives to the board; and
• Chose Ray and Associates to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for Superintendent Heather Beck, who will leave the district on July 1. Michael Musick will serve as interim superintendent for the 2018-19 school year.
— Claire Holley