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Eric Nerison

Kalama School District Superintendent Eric Nerison, left, speaks with residents at a public forum Wednesday for the city’s $64.3 million bond proposal.

A lot has changed in Kalama since 1992 — the last year the residents approved a school bond. Since then, the small town has added a Chevron and the Steelscape mill; it’s also gained a new post office, city hall, library and port administrative offices.

Now the Kalama School District is looking to pass its first school bond in more than a quarter-century.

Residents gathered Wednesday evening at the Community Building on Elm Street to learn more about the district’s $64.3 million plan, which will appear on the Feb. 13 special election ballot.

The measure needs to win at least 60 percent support to succeed, and members of a citizens committee are working hard to ensure it passes.

Since the early 2000s, steady development in Kalama has added the Graystone and Dave's View neighborhoods, Riverwatch Estates and Varsity Drive. The Stone Forest housing development is almost completely built out, with a third expansion set to begin soon.

The Kalama School District’s student population increased by 85 students this year, with roughly 50 of those students enrolling at Kalama Elementary School.

The growth has resulted in an elementary school that’s overpacked. To accommodate the influx of students, administrators were forced to move a new first grade class into the library. Books line the hallway outside.

When asked about the stakes, bond committee volunteer Cleone Kockritz laughed.

"There's no question it's important," she said. "It's critical because they are so full."

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.

The plan would also give middle schoolers their own learning commons, upgrade Kalama High School’s science labs and enhance its vocational training facilities.

The 25-year bond would 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.

Taryn Nelson, a local real-estate agent who heads the bond committee, said the main concerns she’s heard so far have related to cost.

“Everybody’s worried about what it’s going to cost them, which is understandable,” she said.

But bond proponents note that at $2.22 per $1,000 of assessed value, Kalama School District residents currently pay the lowest school property taxes in the area. 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.

Mark Prussing, a financial adviser with Educational Services District 112, told attendees Wednesday that now is also a good time to take out a loan to finance the school projects.

“With interest rates near historic lows, it’s a good time to finance,” he said.

Maxine Nieman, 83, and her husband Fred, 86, told The Daily News that all six of their children passed through Kalama’s school system. Now they currently have nine great-grandchildren who will follow in their family’s footsteps.

“It needs to happen,” she said.



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