Despite failing in a special April election, a $42.4 million bond measure is back on the ballot for Castle Rock voters.
The 25-year bond would increase tax rates by about $25 per month for a $150,000 home and would replace the district’s 70-year-old middle school, among other projects.
School board Chairman Andy Ogden says the board decided to re-run the exact same bond this November because the district needs money to cover the “top priorities” of the schools. Lowering the amount would “not be a good deal for the taxpayers” because it would reduce the $17 million in state matching dollars the district would receive if the bond passes.
“The state match is figured on the amount of local dollars going in, so every dollar we reduce in local money reduced our match ability. We lose somewhere around $1.20 for every dollar we cut,” Ogden said. “We are trying to do the best return on investment, and that’s how we can maximize the state match.”
Superintendent Jim Mabbott said the district was limited by its debt capacity in what it could ask for with the bond. The final amount is a just few million dollars short of the district’s cap.
“Even last spring, we knew the bond would not cover all the needs, but we felt it would cover as many as it could, and those were the critical needs,” Ogden said.
The majority of the bond money — about $34.5 million — would go toward building a new middle school.
“The problems with it are endless. Heating and air conditioning, seismic upgrades, all sorts of things,” Ogden said. “The building has passed its usable life.”
Should the bond pass, a new middle school would be built behind the high school, where the current baseball and softball fields are. Ogden said the district would sell the old middle school property and use the money to pay down the bond.
The bond fell 5 points short of the required 60 percent supermajority when the district put it to voters in April, but Ogden said the school board hopes the bond will pass this time.
“Even though we lost in April, hopefully we laid a little ground work and set the foundation to succeed this time,” Ogden said. “Kelso had success. Kalama had success. We are hoping with the right message and getting that information out there, we can get over the hump this time.”
A citizen’s group formed shortly after April has been waging a vigorous campaign to support the bond, including submitting a “pro” statement in the county voters guide. No statement of opposition was submitted.
“You won’t hear a lot from the other side of the argument because most people who are just making ends meet in this area have to work a full-time job. They really don’t have the time to address the problems and go to the meetings and support a candidate (or bond measure),” said Gail Egner, 80, of Castle Rock.
Egner, who doesn’t have any children or grandchildren currently in the schools, said she’s worried about the cost to taxpayers.
“You can’t buy anything you can live in for $150,000. Most of the homes have an assessment of upwards of $300,000,” she said Monday. “That’s almost ($600) a year added on to the tax bill. And then what happens if assessments get higher over the years?”
Egner agreed that the schools need repairs, but she said district shouldn’t ask taxpayers for so much support and should consider other options for financing the improvements.
She added that the school needs to do a better job at maintaining its facilities overall.
Castle Rock High School, which is about 50 years old, “is not that old, and yet when we toured the school, the metal work around the perimeter of the building up near the roof line is rotting and coming apart,” Egner said. “If you are going to put something like that on, you need to sand it every four or five years and paint it. If you don’t get out there and wash it once in a while, ... pretty soon you don’t have (it).”
“They pay somebody down there full time as the maintenance person, but some of the stuff he is supposed to maintain just has not been done,” she said.
Proponents for the bond argue that the facilities have been “falling apart” for a long time. With the exception of last April, it’s been almost 20 years since the district put a facility bond before the voters.
“It’s a big number, especially for this community ... but it’s not something we take lightly,” Ogden said. “We did a lot of groundwork and preparations for this. The bottom line is the longer we wait, the more expensive it was going to get, and the less we would be able to do.”
Odgen and Mabbott said improvements to the school will benefit the entire Castle Rock community, not just those who have children in the district. Though the bond would raise taxes, it would also enhance the community’s vitality.
“I think it’s been shown quite clearly across our state and across our country that as school facilities are improved, the community as a whole improves. Property values go up and people want to live there,” Mabbott said. “I just think this is part of a continued improvement of the communities around the Castle Rock School District.”
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