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Parents put hope in proposed bond

Reynolds board to consider refering measure to voters
by: John Klicker, Students file out of the portables at Wilkes Elementary after school. The school has more children than classroom space.

Donna Edgley, a member of the Reynolds School District Board, noted that when board members toured Wilkes Elementary School in 2007 'you won the prize for saddest bathrooms.'

John Pestillo, Wilkes principal, countered her claim.

'We won the prize for saddest everything,' he said.

Edgley and Pestillo's banter took place during a March 13 evening presentation at Wilkes on a proposed bond to finance construction in the Reynolds district.

About 20 people - parents, children and district staff and board members - were present for the Wilkes forum, the fourth in a series of six such forums scheduled this month.

Edgley noted that the bathrooms at Wilkes have been upgraded since the board's tour. However, behind her banter with Pestillo is a harsh reality. Wilkes, operating since 1913, has so many needs - from new bathrooms to a new book room - that some say it makes more financial sense to build a new school than renovate the existing one.

Take Board Vice Chairman Ted Vogelpohl, who estimated renovating Wilkes would cost $15 million, and would only buy 30 years more time on the building. Building a new school would cost roughly the same amount of money, but the new structure could last 75 years, he said.

A new school for Wilkes is among the items the district is considering financing with a new bond. Other possible items include:

• A new high school to help alleviate crowding at Reynolds High School. Board members say Reynolds is operating over capacity and is projected to have 4,000 students in 10 years, as opposed to about 3,000 now. Another option being discussed would be the creation of a separate freshmen academy, Vogelpohl said.

• A new middle school, and a new elementary school - in addition to Wilkes - as well as improvements at such elementary schools as Fairview and Troutdale.

• Minor improvements at all the other district schools as well, from new classrooms to heating and cooling systems and upgraded wiring and technology. Reynolds alone needs $7 million in upgrades and repairs, Vogelpohl said.

The district is considering a bond because of several factors, including rising enrollment, aging buildings and the possibility of such legislatively mandated challenges as all-day kindergarten.

Board members note that enrollment has increased district wide by more than 1,425 students since the district's last bond measure passed in 2000, and that there is almost no extra classroom space in the district. By 2017, the district will need at least 60 new classrooms to accommodate a projected enrollment increase of between 1,500 and 2,500 over the next nine years, Vogelpohl said.

The board has spent the past three years studying district facilities, as well as interviewing staff at schools to assess needs. Board members say that the district has not set a specific bond figure because it is still gathering public input. However, it's likely any figure set would exceed $100 million.

Voters turned away a $115 million bond in 2006, and among the concerns raised by parents at the Wilkes meeting was whether voters without children would support a bond. Some called for enlisting such seniors as retired musicians who want to support a district that encourages music programs, or citizens who are in favor of promoting literacy through school libraries.

Others noted that the area construction industry could be enlisted to support the bond, whose economic benefits would also benefit stores and restaurants patronized by construction workers.

Lauri and Dan Kreamier, whose children attend Fairview Elementary and Reynolds Middle schools, said she thinks even voters without a personal stake in the district could be persuaded to support the bond if voters know exactly how the money will be spent school by school.

Her husband added, however, that the bond's fate rests primarily with a factor the district can't control.

'It's going to be dependent upon, I believe, the state of our economy this fall if it passes or not,' Dan Kreamier said.

Denise Blaylock, whose children attend Walt Morey Middle School and Sweetbriar Elementary, believes the bond is necessary. She noted that the overcrowding at Reynolds alone is a cause for concern, and that the bond has a chance of success if it's promoted well.

'If it's conveyed properly, people will see that it's a necessary element for the community to see that the kids have all the tools and help they need to be successful in high school and beyond,' she said.