Richland School Board delays decision on bond as details are ironed out

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldAugust 15, 2012 

The Richland School Board delayed a decision on a possible bond to pay for construction of new schools and other projects Tuesday night as it irons out details for the ballot measure.

Board members requested the district's financial consultant come back with new tax rate estimates and other information for a possible $98 million bond.

The board has been talking about the possible bond for months. Increasing enrollment in south Richland and west of Richland is straining classrooms while older schools in the district's core are becoming more expensive to maintain and there's a lack of infrastructure for modern teaching needs, officials have said.

If approved by voters, the bond would pay for a new elementary school in south Richland and a new middle school west of town, but not necessarily in West Richland.

Three elementary schools in central Richland would be rebuilt and Jefferson Elementary School would be repurposed for the Three Rivers HomeLink program. Chief Joseph Middle School would have a new heating and cooling system installed and Fran Rish Stadium would receive safety improvements.

The cost of all the projects is estimated at $96.5 million, but does not include inflation, buying the land and a contingency fund.

Jon Gores, senior vice president of public finance at D.A. Davidson & Co., said the district would benefit from its high bond rating in selling bonds. However, the volatile global and national economies could contribute to higher interest rates, creating higher costs for taxpayers.

Board members looked at bond financing options worth $93 million to $99 million. Those bonds could cost taxpayers up to 44 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Board member Mary Guay said she was happy the cost of the bond is less than $100 million but wanted to make sure the board had enough to complete the projects. Board member Heather Cleary said she was concerned about the middle school project.

"It's the riskiest of all of them, and we have no room in our middle schools and we need it," she said.

The need for another option closer to the estimated cost of all the projects led the board to the $98 million bond estimate.

Board members also discussed the language of the proposed title and text that would describe the bond on the February ballot. Attorney Jim McNeill told the board they needed to be careful with how the projects are described, as it could lead to problems if the projects aren't carried out as written.

Also Tuesday:

w Board members approved buying 12.5 acres in south Richland for about $1.2 million. The land is for the elementary school called for in the district's proposed bond. The land was bought from a company developing apartments nearby.

Board Chairman Rick Jansons said the L-shaped parcel meets the requirements for the future school, would not need a unique school design and has other improvements, such as utilities, already in place. The district will now talk with three neighboring homeowner associations and other residents.

"We think it meets the needs of south Richland but we want to be good neighbors," he said.

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