Consultant says public input crucial for Prosser school bond proposals

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 21, 2014 

PROSSER -- Community input will be crucial for any bond proposal to pass in the Prosser School District, a consultant told school board members this week.

District officials have spoken for months about possibly seeking a bond to remodel or rebuild Prosser High School.

And the public needs to be engaged every step of the way, said Doug Nichols, a construction project manager with Educational Service District 112, based in Vancouver, Wash..

Nichols said public input should be sought to develop a long-range facilities plan and complete a state report to determine how much money the state would provide for the project.

"If you really want the people to have a say in your facilities, you have to let the people lead the process," he said.

Four bonds have failed in the district since 2005 because of criticism of everything from the price tag to initial designs.

Board members this week voiced concerns about the task ahead, but said they want to reach out to everyone at the beginning if they agree to pursue a bond.

"We need a diverse committee," said Vice Chairman Bill Jenkin.

The board began openly discussing the need for bond in early fall 2013. The district's high school has been added on to several times, most recently in the '60s, and gone through a few renovations.

The school has almost 300 more students than its designed capacity of 600 and has problems when it comes to technology and security needs, officials said.

Prosser voters most recently rejected two $40 million bonds for a new high school in 2011. Jenkin said the new building's proposed design, including rounded or sharp corners on the building, and location also have been a source of opposition.

Board member Warren Barmore said cost has been one of the biggest concerns he has heard.

"Everybody in the community was asking, 'Why do we have to have a Cadillac?' " Barmore said of the past two bonds.

Nichols, whose agency assists small districts with managing construction projects, said successful bond proposals involve the public, from drafting a long-range facilities plan all the way up to what actually ends up on a ballot.

Getting community input can be difficult, he added, but a combination of public meetings, surveys and social media should provide ample opportunity for people to weigh in. The district also will need at least nine months ahead of the election to develop a bond proposal and get information out about it.

The district is still far from determining what exactly the bond would pay for and, if approved, when the building would open.

However, board Chairwoman Gayle Wheeler was surprised when Nichols said it could actually take as long as four years to design and build a new high school, not including the time to prepare a bond.

Board member Bruce Matsumura was bothered by the possible fluctuation in the preliminary cost of $60 million by as much as 5 percent because of variations in construction bids.

"Being within 5 percent isn't acceptable," he said. "That's $3 million. I'd think we'd have a hard time selling that to the community."

But Wheeler told the Herald she's optimistic about a possible bond and the board has the issue at the front of its thoughts, along with avoiding the failures of past bond efforts.

w Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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