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The Kelso School Board voted Monday to schedule a public hearing for Dec. 17. on whether to change its facility plan to build two new elementary schools instead of three.

The $98.6 million bond voters approved in February was directed toward building new schools on the Wallace, Beacon Hill and Lexington properties. However, district officials say the estimated costs of the projects ballooned due to “unprecedented market conditions” that increased the price of labor and materials and “unexpectedly poor soil conditions,” which will require deeper foundations at both sites.

The district’s biggest challenge right now is to reduce costs by about $20 million, said Scott Westlund, district finance director said Monday before the meeting.

To do this, the district is considering dropping replacement of Beacon Hill School and instead building new schools at Wallace and Lexington. The revisions would increase the capacity of the Lexington school from 650 students to 950 to accommodate the existing students in Beacon Hill and Catlin elementaries.

“This plan in and of itself is probably the closest we can get to maintaining the current bond program. Anything beyond this plan will require some drastic decisions...to alter the plan to a larger extent,” Westlund said.

Westlund said the changes are not significant enough to legally require a public hearing. However, the district is holding one to ensure that “everyone has a voice in this decision,” Westlund said.

“We have felt being open and transparent has gotten us to this point, and we think it is important to continue that,” Westlund said.

The hearing will allow citizens to weigh in on the proposed changes before the board votes on whether to adopt them. The board may act on the matter as soon as its first meeting in January, Westlund said.

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