Gervais school officials seek more than Band-Aid to fix buildings
Gervais High School was built in 1963 and renovations on the building since then have been minimal.
"There are patches on patches," said Dandy Stevens, Gervais School District superintendent.
Even the last bond that passed in the district (more than 30 years ago) didn't go to the high school, but rather went toward building a new elementary school that has since been sold.
But a proposed bond could deliver those long-awaited upgrades to the 60-year-old building, including a new roof, remodeled restrooms and locker rooms, upgraded HVAC and plumbing systems, renovated classroom and hallway spaces, added security and modernized science lab equipment.
On May 17, the Gervais School Board hopes voters approve a 25-year $31 million bond that, if passed, would cost the average voter between $28 and $38 extra a month but also would include improvements to Gervais elementary and middle schools.
What that means at Gervais Elementary School, parts of which are nearly 100 years old, is a new HVAC system. Just last week, the antiquated boiler system broke down. If the bond passes, the security system, the roof, windows, lighting and more also would be renovated. Additionally, an outdoor covered play structure will be built so the students won't have to spend recess in the rain.
Unlike the high school and elementary school, Gervais Middle School isn't an aging building, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have issues that could be fixed with bond money. The prefabricated structure was designed for young elementary school children, not growing adolescents.
The bond would reduce crowding by expanding classroom spaces and moving lockers in the hallways. The school was built to house classrooms and not common spaces, so the bond also would cover a new multipurpose building. It would house dining (students currently need to go to the high school for lunch, creating scheduling issues) as well as STEM, performing arts and other important activities. Like the other schools, the middle school also would get a security upgrade.
Considering the future
With a history of failed bond measures, board members and even district officials fear what will happen if voters reject the bond proposal.
"If this bond doesn't pass, the long-term implications for our community and students will be substantial," said Ana Contreras, school board vice-chair. "As a community we need to ensure that our schools provide robust classes and facilities, and if we aren't able to do that, I fear that Gervais may become absorbed by another district."
The concept of dissolving a district isn't unheard of in Oregon, Stevens said.
"There are very recent examples, even in this district, where schools were closed for a variety of reasons," she said. "I think the school board's analysis on what the possible future of the Gervais School District could look like is a very real scenario and not one that people realize is a possibility. Besides student enrollment and funding for programs, having spaces to offer the programs is a factor as well. All of these components are beginning to converge into a problem that needs addressing on many levels."
Should Gervais ever face that scenario, the district would be divided among neighboring districts, all of which have their taxpayers paying for an existing levy.
"Taxpayers in every other district in this area along the I-5 corridor, except for one, are paying a levy toward school facilities," Stevens said, noting that if Gervais passes the bond, its taxpayers will still pay less for Gervais schools than their counterparts in almost all neighboring districts.
It's an admittedly poor time to ask voters to say yes to paying more, with inflation the highest it's been in recent years.
"Inflation prices should come back down over time, but construction costs will not come down," Stevens said. "There have been double digit increases (in construction costs) every year since the last time we asked for a bond. What would cost taxpayers $31 million now will be in the $40 million range in five years.
"The board is asking the community to be in it for the long haul and not the short term, which I know is asking people to make tough choices," she said.
Contreras and the rest of the board want voters to ask themselves what they'd like to see five to 10 years from now. For her part, Contreras hopes that passing the bond now will mean a greater sense of belonging and pride in the coming years.
"Now is the time to support and encourage educational development, so the next generation can succeed," she said.
For complete information regarding the Gervais School District bond, visit https://www.gervais.k12.or.us/gervais-bond-measure/.
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