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School district must focus on a new high school in the north

One large block of underdeveloped, rural residential land is still available in the Bonny Slope area

The city of Beaverton should be commended for its eagerness to collaborate with the Beaverton School District's efforts to obtain a site for a new high school by lobbying to expand its urban growth boundary to include the potential school site as well as 500 acres in the surrounding area. However, the selection of this site at this time is a painful demonstration of a failure of foresight and leadership by the school district as well as Washington County, Metro and Multnomah County, whose land-use planners have a legal obligation under Oregon law to ensure that land for school facilities is available.

Given the arduous process of expanding Beaverton's urban growth boundary and the inevitability of appeals from groups such as 1000 Friends of Oregon, it will be many years before construction of a new high school can begin.

Since it seems rather obvious that the city is exploiting the need for a site for a new high school as a pretext to expand its urban growth boundary onto prime Washington County farm land, it is quite probable that the appeals will be successful and the school will not be built. The Beaverton School District will then have squandered $11.5 million of the taxpayers' money on a speculative purchase of land that will remain unbuildable for decades.

The Beaverton School District's Facilities Plan 2010 documents the need for a new high school. In fact, the plan documents that the district will eventually need two sites for new high schools, one in the south portion of the district and one in the north. However, as the map on page 18 of the plan so graphically illustrates, the most urgent need for a site for a new high school is not in the southern portion of the district.

While the yellow highlighting of the service boundaries for Southridge and Aloha high schools indicates that these schools are operating somewhat above capacity, Beaverton's boundary is colored green to indicate a surplus capacity. In comparison, the boundaries for Sunset and Westview high schools to the north are highlighted in red, indicating that these two high schools are severely overcrowded.

Sunset is redlined even with all of the portable classrooms that have become seemingly permanent structures on campus. While redistricting can partially alleviate this overcrowding, the impending urbanization of the North Bethany area along with infill and refill development in existing urban areas will completely overwhelm these schools.

Since the quality of high schools has traditionally been a major consideration for homebuyers, the prospect of failing schools will inevitably depress property values. This prospect should be alarming to the Washington County assessor's office as well as the city of Beaverton, which will almost certainly annex the Cedar Mill and Bethany areas.

A quick perusal of a map confirms an extreme paucity of 35- to 40-acre blocks of undeveloped land in the northern portion of the Beaverton School District that would be suitable for a new high school.

The most obvious candidate is the Dennahenian holly farm adjacent to the Oak Hills subdivision, but locating a new school only a few blocks away from Sunset would be absurdly redundant. The only other potential site in existing urban areas would be an aggregation of the Schmidt and Findley farms on Saltzman Road adjacent to Findley Elementary. However, this potential site is topographically and geotechnically challenged.

In spite of the obviously desperate need for a new high school, a potential site is conspicuously absent from the concept plan for the North Bethany area, which does include sites for a middle school and two elementary schools that will be needed to serve the new residents.

Washington County's oversight is somewhat excusable given the Beaverton School District's astonishing failure to procure a site for a new high school in the Bethany and Cedar Mill areas in years past.

The capital improvement bond approved by the voters in 1995 included $50 million to buy 87 acres for new school sites, including a new high school. Given the prevalent land values at the time, the district could have, if it had moved adroitly and entered into good faith negotiations with willing landowners, obtained the acreage that it needed for only about $10 million. Aside from exploiting the opportunity to buy at low prices in a rapidly escalating market, the district would have had several potential sites suitable for a new school to choose from before they were developed. Unfortunately, the district procrastinated.

The bureaucrats' oversight inspired many 'concerned citizens' to attend hearings for Metro's urban growth boundary expansion, where they pleaded with Metro to exclude certain lands from the UGB so that the district would have an opportunity to purchase school sites at affordable prices. Back then, the Metro councilors at the hearings had the intelligence and integrity to explain that colluding with the district to devalue a citizen's land so that it could be purchased cheaply would be an unethical and illegal abuse of government authority.

While the politicians should be castigated for their dereliction of duty, the need to procure a site for a new high school in the Bethany and Cedar Mill area is far more important and urgent.

Fortunately, one large block of underdeveloped, rural residential land that would be suitable for a new high school is still available in the Bonny Slope area. This site, bounded by the county line to the west, Thompson Road to the south, 124th to the east and Bronson Creek to the north, would make an extraordinarily beautiful school site. The Bonny Slope area also includes a site to the north of Bronson Creek that could accommodate the community recreation center that the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District needs.

These sites remain available because of bureaucratic intransigence that has impeded the concept planning and zoning process that is needed to enable development.

Unfortunately, politicians seem to be eager to squander the only remaining viable site for the new high school that the Bethany and Cedar Mill communities so desperately need.