Cheers erupted Tuesday night from a roomful of Kelso school supporters who gathered in the Cowlitz County Administration Building to hear the results read aloud for the district’s $98.6 million school bond.
The measure easily won the supermajority needed to pass, capturing 65 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s returns.
District voters also overwhelmingly approved an important replacement local school levy with 68 percent support.
“I think it’s an affirmation that the projects we chose and the work we chose was aligned with what our community told us to do,” Kelso Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said in an interview. “It’s another expression of how Kelso is a place where people come together to support kids and to support teachers and staff.”
The plan will rebuild Wallace and Beacon Hill elementary schools, and the district will also construct a brand-new school on a 10-acre parcel of land in Lexington.
The bond will also upgrade the district’s athletic facilities, including replacing the grass at Schroeder Field with artificial turf and installing synthetic tracks at Coweeman and Huntington middle schools.
The plan will also address the district’s overcrowding problems by eliminating 15 portable classrooms. Other enhancements include updating career and technical classrooms; installing video surveillance, exterior lighting and better communications systems; and upgrading plumbing, ventilation, heating and cooling systems, roofs, windows and siding.
“For the staff and for the kids, it means significant upgrades in their learning environments that they’ll have for the next 35 to 50 years,” Gelbrich said.
The raw vote for the bond as of Tuesday evening was 2,967 in favor and 1,605 against. The proportion of yes and no votes is likely to change only slightly as the county elections office processes more ballots in the coming days.
“It’s such a privilege to be in a community like this that supports the schools like we do,” Kelso School Board President Bob Lucas said in an interview. “For our future, even though buildings aren’t the end all, we definitely need to upgrade what we have.”
Once the planning and design is complete, the district will begin work on a new school to the south of Wallace Elementary. Students will be moved into the new school when it’s complete. The old Wallace building will then be demolished, and the district will use the space to reconfigure parking and traffic flow.
According to the plan, work will also begin on the new school at the district’s Lexington site. Beacon Hill Elementary students will start attending the new school when it’s complete, and the old California-style elementary will be rebuilt. Catlin Elementary students will then move into the new Beacon Hill school.
Possibilities for the old Catlin campus include expanding the district’s space for its Head Start preschool program.
The district is also engaged in a countywide discussion about converting the Catlin site into a regional skills center similar to the Clark County Skills Center. The property could also be sold or exchanged as the City of Kelso looks to revitalize that area of town.