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The Kelso community will have its first chance to publicly respond to the school district’s proposal to cut one elementary school from its facility bond construction plans during the school board meeting on Monday, Dec. 17. The board has the final say for any changes made to the building plans.

Voters approved a $98.6 million bond in February, which intended to build three new elementary schools on the Wallace, Beacon Hill and Lexington properties. But the district’s latest estimates shows the bond falls about $20 million short of total projects costs.

The brunt of the shortfall is caused by increased labor and material costs, said Scott Westlund, finance director. Construction costs came in “exorbitantly higher” than the district’s original estimations due to “unprecedented market conditions,” Westlund said.

Poor soil conditions calling for deeper foundations at the Wallace and Lexington construction sites make up the last “few million dollars” of the overage, Westlund said.

“We spent a considerable amount of time developing a plan for three schools, and there is definitely disappointment for factors really beyond our control that we have to alter our bond program” Westlund said.

The current proposal suggests building only two new schools, but making the Lexington school larger to accommodate almost double the students.

A presentation about the proposed changes during a 4:30 p.m. board work session will precede the public hearing, so the hearing will focus on pubic comment and not the details of the plan, Westlund said.

Westlund said district officials presented the plan to school staff earlier this month, whose primary concerns were the size of the Lexington school and whether the district had explored other options cost-cutting measures.

“This plan itself would preserve the bond plan more than any other alternative would,” Westlund said. To build three schools would require cutting $20 million from other bond projects, Westlund said.

The earliest the board can vote to approve the change is Jan. 14, Westlund said. Two “open house” sessions for the bond are scheduled on Dec. 18 and Jan. 9 leading up to that meeting.

“Right now we are in a listening mode of gathering public and staff input, and that’s where we are at with it right now,” Westlund said. “No decision has been made one way or the other.”

The board meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the district office on Crawford Street, and district officials anticipate the public hearing to begin around 6:15 p.m.

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