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Gaston School Board casts $12 million vote

Bond measure would replace classrooms, a gym and a cafeteria

Gaston School Board members will cast an important vote Thursday evening — one that could determine whether the school district will be able to give students a

new gym, cafeteria and classroom space.

At their 6 p.m. meeting Thursday, March 3, in the Gaston Elementary School library, board members will decide whether to place a $12 million bond proposal on the May ballot. The meeting is open to all and will include a public comment period.

If the board votes yes and voters pass the bond, homeowners in the school district boundary would have to pay $2.13 per $1,000 of assessed home tax value — $425 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home, for example.

The bond would fund the teardown of Gaston’s old gym and of outdated portable classrooms, as well as a parking lot revamp.

Built in 1926, the gym currently houses everything from physical education classes and assemblies to lunch space and school plays. But the building has inadequate seating, poor lighting and no bathrooms, say district officials. It needs a new roof and it’s not ADA-accessible (Americans with Disabilities Act).

The district’s six portable classrooms — given a 20-year life expectancy when they were dropped on Gaston’s campus in 1973 — are old and rundown. Administrators are hoping the bond will fund a new multi-level facility that will hold classrooms, a new cafeteria, gym and performance stage. In addition, classrooms would be added to the existing elementary school.

The parking lot would also be expanded over the area where the portables currently sit, allowing for a new traffic flow that would separate bus, pedestrian and car traffic as well as add more parking.

“We’ve stretched our buildings further than we should have,” school board chairman Roger Mesenbrink said.

Gaston’s schools are increasingly pressed for space, district leaders say, in part because of open enrollment, which in Fall 2012 began allowing students from other districts to join Gaston.

Of the district’s 564 students, 20 percent now come from outside the district.

In addition, Gaston is welcoming the first phases of Gaston Heights, a subdivision that could double both town and school populations.

While the newcomers bring $6,911 per student in state funding along with them, that money goes toward educating students, not improving facilities.

Superintendent Susan McKenzie said improvements are needed not so much because of space concerns but because the buildings are in such poor condition. In addition, the cafeteria is simply too small, she said.

McKenzie applied for — but failed to win — a portion of the $125 million set aside by Senate Bill 447 to match capital costs for Oregon school districts. Gaston is, however, number one on the waiting list. So school leaders want to be ready in case another district’s bond measure fails.

Matching funds of $4 million to $8 million were doled out for capital projects in school districts around the state. But a district can’t

collect the money unless its bond measure passes a public vote. Some districts have already passed measures.

A portion of the money was awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis, and the rest was awarded based on need. (Gaston came in 64th out of about 200 districts when ranked by need.)

Gaston’s project would still be doable without the grant money as long as the district passes the bond measure, said Mesenbrink. It just wouldn’t include every part of the original plan.