Othello School Board discusses facility options

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OTHELLO — Othello School Board members are asking district patrons for their ideas about the best way to address the district’s facility needs – while keeping the cost as low as possible.

“I would say that as a board, we need to go out in the community and ask questions,” said board chair Rob Simmons. That came at the end of a two-hour special board meeting Monday to discuss options and financing. Simmons emphasized all the discussions right now are just discussions, and the board hasn’t made any decisions.

Board members have been wrestling with the options, and the needs, since members of a community facility committee delivered their recommendations in December. The appointment of a committee followed the rejection of a construction bond in February 2018.

Board members had asked for estimates on the cost of various options, which they got Monday.

The community committee listed some priorities in its report. Their list included more classrooms at the district’s elementary schools, gym space at the elementary schools, preschool space and renovation and expansion at Othello High School. The estimates led Simmons to the other board members a question.

“What can we do from a financial perspective?” Simmons asked. He asked board members to think about what can be done with available funds, and what kind of financing the district can get with the available options.

The district does have a grant to build additional space for kindergarten through third-grade classes to meet state requirements for class size. Rebecca Montgomery, a consultant working with the district on its finances, suggested that money could be used as part of a package to build a combined preschool and kindergarten facility. That could reduce the need for more classrooms at the individual elementary schools.

Board member Ken Johnson said he thought that sounded like a good option. But board member Jenn Stevenson said she has talked to district patrons who are skeptical of a district-sponsored preschool. (Preschool is not funded through the state education apparatus.)

A priority list was another option. Simmons said classrooms at the elementary schools might be the first option, with the gyms deferred to a second phase. Expansion at OHS might include re-purposing some rooms, he said, rather than demolishing them.

Simmons suggested board members think about a long term plan, starting with a capital levy supplemented by some district funds. The current construction bond is paid off in about six years, Simmons said, and he suggested waiting until then to put a construction bond proposal before voters. That option would require the priority list. “It would have to phased,” he said.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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