Earlier this week, the TDN editorial board met with representatives of the Kelso School District and the Citizens for Kelso Schools group about the school district’s proposed $98.6 million school bond.
The spirit and energy of Kelso was evident as our visitors explained why the bond is needed and how the money would be used. Editorial board members left the meeting in unanimous support of the capital bond and urge Kelso residents to support it on Feb. 13.
Admittedly, $98.6 million is a huge amount of money, but the people involved in creating the bond proposal definitely did their homework. And, the bond is important for the Kelso School District.
In January 2017, the Kelso School District Board formed a Facility Improvement Team to examine where the school district stands with its buildings, compare that information with where they want the buildings to be for the children of the district and map out a plan to accomplish their findings.
After an 11-month planning period, the proposed capital bond includes six types of needed improvements: safety and security, adding and updating classrooms, replacing three schools, modernizing the other seven schools in the district, improving traffic and parking at five congested schools, and making some needed updates to athletic facilities.
The school district could have asked voters to support an approximate $138 million bond, but the district has leveraged $40 million in state matching funds, which brings the proposal for voters to the $98.6 million.
We have examined the plan. The money being asked for will be well-spent and in the best interests of the children of Kelso.
With the migration of people from Clark County and Portland combined with the state-mandated decrease in the number of students per class, Kelso schools are running out of room.
Nine of the 10 Kelso schools are over 100 percent capacity. Only Huntington Middle School is under capacity at 98 percent. One school, Butler Acres Elementary, is at 198 percent capacity. The other schools range from 105 percent to 165 percent capacity. When referring to overcapacity, we mean the school buildings are 100 percent full. The percentages over 100 percent are students housed in portable classrooms.
In addition, the school buildings are aging. The oldest one was built in 1939. When we asked why build and not remodel, the answer was simple. For some of the schools, replacing them is more cost-efficient than updating them to comply with current building codes.
Because of safety fears, many parents drive their children to school. All those cars congest the areas and make them unsafe.
The district proposes replacing Wallace, Catlin and Beacon Hill elementary schools and adding a school in the Lexington area on property the district already owns, purchased in the past in anticipation of expanding into the neighborhood.
Parking is one issue at Wallace. People who work or visit the school must park on the streets surrounding it. The bond proposal calls for building a new school on the south end of the property and keeping the much-needed play area. Once the new school is built, the current school would be torn down and a parking area would be provided which would ease traffic congestion.
After the school in Lexington is built, students from Beacon Hill Elementary would be moved there, and the Beacon Hill school would be demolished. Anyone who has been to Beacon Hill knows traffic and safety are huge issues. After the new Beacon Hill school is built, traffic would be rerouted, and most of the children at Catlin would be moved to the new Beacon Hill school.
That leaves Catlin open to a number of possibilities. District officials offered some ideas and stressed they are only discussions. No plans have been formalized. Ideas include swapping the land for other land; expanding the Head Start program; reframing and revitalizing the neighborhood by perhaps selling the school to the city; and working with other counties, school districts, businesses and unions to turn Catlin into a possible regional skills center – an idea TDN’s editorial board members favor.
Improvements to the athletic facilities would include updating the stadium at the high school, replacing the grass at Schroeder Field with artificial turf, and installing synthetic tracks at Coweeman and Huntington middle schools. Last fall, the Kelso football team had to play their home playoff game in Vancouver because Schroeder Field was not turfed. As for the tracks at the middle schools, well, they are in the same horrible shape as they were back in the 1980s when members of this editorial board ran on them.
We believe these all are fantastic improvements.
Among other enhancements are eliminating portable classrooms, 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.
All of these projects also will create jobs. When asked if local contractors and subcontractors would be hired, district officials assured us they have been talking with local unions and plan on using local labor as much as possible.
We were impressed with the Kelso School District’s plan.
We support Kelso schools and urge Kelso residents to vote yes on the capital bond.