Kalama school upgrade plans

When the Kalama Elementary School needed to move an extra class into the school library, the books spilled out in the hallways. Now that the school bond has passed, a new school will be built to accommodate the district's growing population.

Bill Wagner, The Daily News

Kalama will gain a new elementary school after district residents decisively approved a $63.4 million school bond Tuesday night.

The news was greeted with smiles and applause from district supporters who spilled out of the the Cowlitz County Elections Office as printouts of the unofficial election results were distributed by election officials.

The bond was passing with 63 percent support as of Tuesday. Kalama also led Cowlitz County with 45 percent turnout among the school district’s roughly 4,700 registered voters.

A replacement school levy also won nearly 70 percent support.

It was the first school bond Kalama voters have approved since 1992.

“This is an opportunity to take our district to the next level,” Kalama Superintendent Eric Nerison said in an interview. “I’m just proud of the community for coming out in the force that they did in terms of letting us know where they stand.”

In addition to building a new elementary school, the approved bond also will give middle schoolers their own learning commons, upgrade Kalama High School’s science labs and enhance its vocational training facilities.

The proposed plan would build a new elementary school where the district’s baseball and softball fields are located, while the site of the old building would be converted into additional parking space.

After gaining 85 students this year, the district is facing pressing overcrowding problems. Roughly 50 of those new students enrolled at Kalama Elementary School, which is already packed. To accommodate the influx of students, administrators were forced to move a new first-grade class into the library.

Nerison said the elementary school will be “the first domino to fall” after the design for the new building is complete. Work on the district’s new middle school commons could start shortly after the elementary is complete, he said.

After an estimated eight-month design phase, the district will go through the bid process to select a contractor. The contractor will help determine the best order of operations for moving students and classes around the campus when construction begins, he said.

Nerison said it will be important to retain the district’s 1930s aesthetic.

The 25-year bond will cost the owner of a home valued at $200,000 an extra $37.50 per month, or $450 annually, according to the district’s estimates.

Even with the added cost of the bond, the residents would still be paying the fourth-lowest property taxes out of the 15 closest school districts.

“Our goal is to make our community proud of the schools we have, and not just with the exterior,” Nerison said. “It’s important that we have buildings that complement the learning objectives we’re trying to accomplish.”

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