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Kelso schools

Kelso would gain three new elementary schools — instead of two — under a revised $98.6 million facilities improvement plan presented Thursday at a special school board meeting.

The original $87.5 million facilities improvement plan, unveiled last month, had called for repurposing Beacon Hill Elementary School and modernizing Catlin Elementary School.

The new proposal would repurpose Catlin Elementary School and completely rebuild Beacon Hill Elementary.

The new plan would still rebuild Wallace Elementary School and construct a new elementary school at the district’s 10-acre Lexington site. The plan also would upgrade the district’s athletic facilities, modernize Huntington Middle School and Carrolls Elementary and make districtwide safety and security upgrades.

The new, bigger bond would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $68 annually in property taxes, or $5.67 a month.

“We would be getting a lot of work done for about 5 bucks a month,” Kelso School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said at the meeting.

Total Kelso school property tax rates would increase from the current rate of $7.42 per $1,000 of assessed value to $7.76 per $1,000, the district estimates.

“It will be more expensive for Kelso, but I feel it is the right thing to do for Kelso kids,” Dot Joslin, a member of the facilities improvement team, wrote in a statement to the school board.

Under the revised plan, construction assistance funds from the state would also increase from $33 million to nearly $40 million. The plan’s total price tag is $136.9 million — up from $121.6 million.

Kelso School District Business and Operations Manager Scott Westlund said there are multiple reasons why the district’s facilities improvement team crafted a new plan.

For starters, the cost of renovating Beacon Hill Elementary would have been about $10 million more than building a new school, Westlund said.

The school’s open, California-style layout with pods at different elevations would make it difficult to modernize and enclose the site while eliminating eight portables, he said.

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“Our architects and engineers looked at the current site layout and it presented a lot of challenges in terms of trying to modernize that building,” Westlund said.

Constructing an entirely new school would also allow the district to solve serious traffic flow and parking problems at the site, he said.

Westlund also listed several reasons for why replacing Catlin Elementary School with a new school at the district’s Lexington site makes sense.

According to Westlund, accessing Catlin’s 55,000 square feet of eligibility for state assistance would allow the district to qualify for an additional 10,000 square feet in matching state funds.

In addition, Catlin no longer serves a majority of students who live in the area, he said. Only about 10 to 15 students walk to the school, with about 100 students living in West Kelso, while the remaining 250 students are bused in from Columbia Heights and East Kelso, he said.

The 70-year-old school also received the lowest score on a recent state survey of structural and functional adequacy. After half of the school was destroyed in a fire about four decades ago, classrooms were rebuilt quickly in what’s now an outdated modular design with low ceilings, Westlund said.

The new plan would put no money into Catlin. Instead, the 1948 building could be used for teaching and learning programs; professional development; community activities; and preschool activities.

The district could also explore selling the site, which is zoned for commercial use, Westlund said.

If a new school bond passes in February, Westlund said construction would begin immediately on Wallace Elementary and the Lexington site. Students at Beacon Hill would then be moved to the new school in Lexington. Students living in the Columbia Heights neighborhood would likely then move back to the new Beacon Hill Elementary when it’s finished.

The district is inviting residents to comment on the new plan at meetings at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Oct. 17 in the Kelso High School gym.

The district is also launching an online Thought Exchange to gather comment from community members and staff that starts Monday and continues through Oct. 18. People can register to be part of the process at rebrand.ly/KelsoSDSignup.

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