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Banks school meeting focuses on facilities

Jim Foster says goal of July 30 event is to garner support for a bond levy
by: Chase Allgood A bathroom was converted into offices at Banks Junior High School in an effort to maximize space in recent years. The district has tried three times to pass a construction bond to gird up aging buildings, to no avail.

In an hour and a half on the last Saturday of this month, Banks School District supporters hope to add new foot soldiers to their continuing campaign to pass a construction bond.

During a single-day summit meeting - dubbed 'What's Next For Our Schools?' and set for July 30 - leaders will work hard to convince skeptics in the rural community that fixing aging buildings in the Banks district should be job No. 1 next fall.

'It is our goal to broaden our support base,' Superintendent Jim Foster said last week. 'The purpose of the summit is to bring in a group of people ... who can give us insight on getting this bond passed.'

Banks has walked a long and rocky road around that issue, one that has led to three losses at the polls and a disheartened group of boosters.

'We have maintained our buildings to the best of our ability with the funds we have to work with,' said Foster, who took over as superintendent two years ago.

But, he added, 'the high school has been running on an antiquated boiler system' that does not evenly heat the buildings, and 'there are many days when it doesn't run at all.'

The old section of the junior high building, which was built in 1949, is 'the main focus of our bond,' Foster said. 'It is our goal to replace [or] finish the last phase of construction that was started when the current elementary school was built in the 1990s, he added.

Still, the district's biggest fans aren't giving up.

Kathy Edison, chair of the Banks School Board, is helping to organize the summit along with her husband, Pete Edison, chairman of the facilities planning committee. Both have been involved in promoting 'yes' votes in elections dating back a couple of years.

Seismic issues

The last failed levy try, on May 17, asked voters to approve $10.5 million in construction bonds, money that would have fixed seismic and safety problems at the junior high and high school, among other projects.

Banks Junior High, which enrolled 208 students in 2010-11, scored a minus-1 on a scale of 1 to 10 for performance in a moderate earthquake, according to a 2007 engineering report produced for the district.

And, Foster said, portables purchased in 1992 are on their last legs.

'After 30 years, we have gotten our use out of them and they are in very poor condition,' noted Foster. 'This bond would allow us to get rid of them by providing classroom space in the new structure.'

Specific goals

Summit organizers are hoping to attract dozens of Banks residents to mull over options as the district gets ready to open the 2011-12 academic year in September.

Foster said he wants to 'get a cross-section of the community involved in actively supporting our bond.'

He plans to 'be as transparent as possible' and 'get specific information out to our patrons' that day so they have an opportunity to 'ask questions and give us input.'

Also, district buildings will be open so parents and other stakeholders can get a good look at their current condition.

Foster will wrap up the summit with narrative about a potential fourth bond levy, listing specific projects that include cost breakdowns. 'Hopefully this will prevent rumors from spreading,' he said.

It's his perspective that continuing to prop up failing infrastructure is not in the best interest of the community.

'[Buildings] still wear out. It is not cost effective to keep dumping money into antiquated buildings,' Foster said.