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Banks levy squeaks through

All buildings will get updates, 'phase three' will aid high school

When Skip Smetana went to work at Banks Junior High School this morning it was a brand new day.

The district's maintenance supervisor wore the same heavy set of keys on his utility belt and carried the same equipment around with him: a step stool, a tool box, some light bulbs.

But the difference was, Smetana could look forward to a day when he won't have to perform like a modern-day MacGyver in Banks' aging school buildings - at least not the way his boss, Superintendent Jim Foster, says he's had to the last many years.

'Skip can talk about duct tape and bubble gum, trying to hold things together,' Foster said wryly last week, as results from the May 15 special election showed the district's construction bond passing by a mere 13 votes.

In the latest tally Tuesday afternoon, with all precincts reporting, the $10.5 million measure looked as if it had been approved 763 to 750.

'Personally, I am very pleased,' said Foster, who's retiring at the end of June. 'A lot of people put in endless hours over the past several years to get the word out about the needs of the district.

'Since the schools are a focal point in the community, I believe this is a positive for the entire community ... and a plus for the town as it moves forward with its projected growth in the next 20 years.'

It was the fourth time the Banks School Board had sent a bond levy to voters in the last four years. Levies of $25.5 million and $25.9 million failed in 2008 and 2010, respectively, and a $10.5 million attempt went down to defeat at the polls last May.

This time, the district had lower interest rates - resulting in less of a hit to homeowners' property taxes - and a pared-down project list on its side.

New classrooms

At Banks Junior High, bond money will pay for the replacement of nine classrooms currently housed in portables and construction of another. It will also replace administrative and staff areas, the library and restrooms and add science, computer technology and special education classrooms to the campus. The boys' and girls' locker rooms will be renovated and enlarged as well.

Principal Mark Everett said that in the interim, Smetana had 'done an amazing job of keeping us running' at the junior high. Now, he added, 'we will begin to meet design time lines,' which extend from summer through the 2012-13 school year.

Districtwide, roofs on every building will either be replaced or repaired, as will failing heating systems.

Banks High School will get new alarm and sprinkler systems and new bleachers in the main gym. One classroom will be remodeled for use as a science lab.

At Banks Elementary School, an emergency access road will be created to boost safety.

'Better education'

Banks parent Steve Greagor, who supported the current levy and the ones that failed, said he wasn't surprised the bond passed this time.

'I would hope that the schools' conditions spoke for themselves,' said Greagor, who ran for the school board in 2011 against Laurie Schlegel but was defeated. 'Having the ability to make our schools safer, more energy efficient and more conducive to student learning is what matters.'

Greagor added that passage of bond, called Measure 34-197 on the ballot, 'represents a great opportunity to provide a better education for our district's students, especially in the areas of science and technology.'

Third phase

It's a nice swan song for Foster, who turns over leadership of the 1,130-student district to Banks Elementary Principal Bob Huston on July 1. Since he took over as superintendent three years, ago, Foster has been trying to get a levy passed.

'Overall, I think passage of this bond is a win-win for the schools and the community,' he said. But in Foster's opinion, the fundraising doesn't end here.

'I believe this is phase two for the schools,' Foster said, citing the grade school's construction 10 years ago as the first phase. 'In my opinion, phase three will have to address [the] issues of an aging high school in the near future.'