Kelso School District is starting to collect community input on its $98.6 million vision to modernize and upgrade its public schools.
At a forum Wednesday, the school district presented its plan to roughly a dozen community members in what was the first in a series of meetings on the school bond.
The district wants to rebuild Wallace Elementary and Beacon Hill Elementary — two of the lowest-scoring schools on a recent survey that assessed condition and functionality.
With eight portable classrooms, Beacon Hill Elementary is currently operating at 165-percent capacity. Altogether, the plan would eliminate 15 portable classrooms at the elementary school level districtwide.
The plan would also add a new school at the district’s 10-acre Lexington site and decommission Catlin Elementary School, which would be used for other district and community uses.
“The sheer number of kids who live in the north Kelso area warrant a new school,” Scott Westlund, the district’s business and operations manager, said Wednesday.
Building three new schools would cost $92.9 million, according to the district’s estimates.
However, the district expects to receive nearly $40 million in state assistance to offset those costs.
The plan would also invest $6.8 million to upgrade district’s high school and middle school athletic facilities.
Kelso High School’s 40-year-old stadium would get a new turf field in addition to a new lighting system.
New irrigation systems would be installed in all of the playing fields at Huntington Middle School and Coweeman Middle School, while both schools would also get new tracks.
The plan would also put $7.5 million into safety and security upgrades that include door access control, video surveillance, exterior lighting and communications systems.
In addition, the district would spend $17.6 million on more than 100 modernization projects — such as upgrading plumbing, heating and ventilation — at schools throughout in the district.
About $1.1 million is also carved out for parking capacity expansion and traffic flow improvement.
Compared to current tax rates, the 20-year bond would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $5 monthly or $60 annually starting in 2019.
That’s due to a levy swap passed by the Washington State Legislature over the summer that raises state property taxes while lowering and capping local school levies.
Jack Keolker, who served on the Kelso City Council from 1999 to 2006, said he was impressed with the district’s proposed upgrades.
“When you go to these schools in Clark County, they look like universities. And then you come home …. We just don’t have the same tax base here,” Keolker said. “So I think this is really a great plan considering where we are with our citizens and how much they can pay.”
Bryan Smith of Kelso said he attended the meeting to learn more about how the district is proposing to use property tax revenue.
“Everything just seems to keep going up every year,” he said.
After learning more the district’s proposal, Smith said he approved of the plan.
“We need to have as much pride in our schools as we do our own homes,” Smith said. “To me, this is a minimalistic amount to ask of the taxpayers. I have no problem paying any extra taxes to have that same level of pride.”
The Kelso School Board needs to decide by late November whether to place the bond measure on the February election ballots.
The district’s next public presentation will be at 7:00 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Kelso High School library.