by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Banks School District Superintendent Bob Huston greets students in the lunch room of Banks Junior High School, which will soon morph into a middle school, adding sixth graders to the mix.Riding a hard-won success at the polls that wrested $10.5 million in construction bonds from voters last May, leaders of the Banks School District plan to use most of that money to transition from a junior high system to a middle school system in time for the 2014-15 school year.

They’ll spend $6.9 million to remodel Banks Junior High, which enrolls grades seven and eight, into a building that can host three grades instead of two, said Superintendent Bob Huston.

“Conceptually, the board is moving ahead with the middle school plan — we’re designing that school with grades six, seven and eight in mind,” noted Huston, who replaced retiring Superintendent Jim Foster at the helm of the 1,130-student district in July. “The horse is well out of the barn.”

Scott Rose of DLR Group, a Portland architectural firm, will present schematic drawings and renderings of the middle school-to-be during a community forum at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 10 in the Banks Junior High cafeteria, 450 S. Main St.

Demolition of older portions of the existing building will begin at the end of 2012-13. The cafeteria, gymnasium, locker rooms and a music room will be preserved, but the school will get a sparkling new two-story addition containing several classrooms, a library, administration offices, an updated entry and areas dedicated to technology, science and special education.

“It’s really going to be awesome,” said Huston. “No holes have been dug yet, and we’ve got this school year ahead of us, but the excitement is building.”

Market ‘favorable’

Huston said he got another bit of good news July 31, when the sale of the voter-approved bonds yielded more than the district bargained for.

Business manager Joni Spencer said “the market was very favorable for us this summer,” with the bonds selling at a premium and providing $10,650,818 to construct, renovate and maintain the junior high and other district facilities.

“Because the market was so good and the rates were so low, we were actually able to get $10.65 million,” said Spencer. “We ended up with an extra $150,000 that will allow us to do some extras — maybe something special that we couldn’t have afforded to do otherwise.”

Renovations at the high school will use about $2.8 million of the bond funds, and an emergency and service access road off Oak Street adjacent to the elementary school will account for another $100,000. The rest will be gobbled up by maintenance projects, including roof repairs and updates to an ancient heating system.

Before the new bond levy passed, homeowners were paying $2.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value from a 1996 measure to build Banks Elementary. That was on top of the district’s $5.01 per $1,000 base tax rate. The 2012 bond increased property taxes by 28 cents, replacing the expiring bonded rate of $2.07, with a new debt service tax rate of $2.35 per $1,000 of assessed value until 2027.

“Per our promise to taxpayers, the combined levy rate for the current elementary bond and this new bond will not exceed $2.35 of assessed value,” Spencer noted.

Board consensus

The vision for a school with three grade levels instead of two has been a while in the making in Banks, according to Huston. School board vice-chairwoman Kathy Edison and her husband “have been highly involved,” he said, working diligently to pass a bond in Banks since 2008.

“This would not have happened without Kathy and Pete,” said Huston, who added that ever since he arrived as principal of the elementary school in 2006, “people have been talking about” a middle school in town.

“They’ve wondered, ‘Is the junior high going to be large enough for our student population in the future?’” he said. “Now, consensus-wise, the board is there.”

With the student census holding fairly steady across the district, but with a 2007 demographic study of Banks indicating the town “is online for growth,” now is a good time to make the switch to a middle school, Huston said.

A proposed Urban Growth Boundary expansion encompassing portions of Banks in western Washington County hasn’t yet been fully settled, he added.

“That’s going to be the wild card for us, because we really don’t know what’s going to happen there,” said Huston. “But it’d be awfully short-sighted of us not to plan for it.”

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