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School facilities at capacity

Student enrollment is continuing to increase, which leaves the school facilities committee with some tough decisions to make

by: JOHN SUNDELL - The e-mail address for the facilities committee is 
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 </script>.   Please feel free to e-mail any of your thoughts and recommendations to the facilities committee or you can mail your thoughts to the Public Affairs chairperson: Betty Roppe 399 NE Juniper St., Prineville, Oregon 97754.

In April 2006, the Crook County School Board authorized formation of a Facilities Review Committee to make recommendations to the Board regarding the County's K-12 school facilities.
   The committee consists of 10 citizens who volunteered (mostly parents with children either currently or previously in the school system, plus a few otherwise concerned citizens); three School Board Budget Committee members; and six representatives from community organizations and local government. The full Facilities Committee meets monthly, as do subcommittees for Design, Finance, Public Affairs, and Siting and Transportation. All meetings are open to the public. For a schedule, see http://www.crookcounty.k12.or.us/ (click on Facilities Committee, then click on Agenda).
   To date, the committee's focus has been on determining the condition of existing facilities, evaluating population growth studies prepared by Portland State University, and estimating financial costs associated with a wide variety of possible repair/remodel/build scenarios. In other words, what's the physical condition and student capacity of what we have now, what are the expected future enrollments (by grade level), where in the county do those students live, and what are the costs associated with each possible repair/remodel/build alternative?
   What's known at this point is as follows:
   The December 2005 demographic study prepared by Portland State University has indicated that projected student K-12 student population will rise from 3,315 in 2005 to 4,548 in 2020 (using their medium growth rates estimates).
   (By comparison, 1990 student enrollment was 2,730.) Current capacity, including portable classrooms, stands at 3,268. Overall, we're already above capacity, so something needs to be done.
   The high school is currently over capacity. It was built in 1995-96 at a cost of $17 million, funded by the school district's only outstanding bond issue. If built today, the cost would be at least $55 million.
   A 150+ page report by architects Dull Olson Weekes has identified needed repair work in the district at $30 million, just to serve current student capacity, not to provide for growth.
   Ochoco and Powell Butte elementary schools are both old facilities (1945 and 1930, respectively) in need of significant work, located dangerously close to ever increasing traffic flows. More than half of the Powell Butte students are in modular classrooms. A report by Innovation Partnership (the non-profit group that created Portland's long-range facilities plan) has recommended closure of both schools.
   Powell Butte and the Juniper Canyon area are likely to experience significant growth. Committee representatives are currently in talks with county and federal authorities to obtain land in each of these areas, at no cost to the district. Central Prineville will also experience growth. Land for an elementary school has been offered at IronHorse, but land costs at other central Prineville locations are likely to be prohibitive.
   The middle school is the only facility that can accommodate more students. Crooked River Elementary is at capacity; Cecil Sly Elementary is over capacity. All three schools are in need of repairs.
   While it doesn't make sense to have school facilities built today for a 2020 student population that may not materialize, it does make sense to have a long-range plan. Current thinking calls for a bond measure submitted to voters in 2008 that provides for adequate capacity through 2012-2014, with another bond measure likely at that time if student growth continues as projected.
   The Facilities Committee can only make recommendations to the school board. The board can only place a bond measure on the ballot. It is the voters who will determine the future of Crook County's school facilities. To better assess what the voters want (and what they are willing to pay for), a telephone survey will be conducted in the upcoming weeks. These survey results will then provide a "reality check" to the committee before any recommendations are made to the school board. If contacted as part of the survey, please take the time to answer.
   The "bottom line" is that our facilities are at capacity, student enrollment continues to grow, construction costs in the last few years show little sign of slowing, and some of our schools have reached the point where replacing them seems more sensible than repairing or remodeling. Even avoiding any hint of building "taj mahals", the total costs involved in providing a solution to the district's facilities' challenges will be substantial.