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Gresham-Barlow board approves $299 million facilities bond

The school board of the Gresham-Barlow School District unanimously voted to move ahead with a $299.2 million bond for the November 2016 ballot, which will be the largest school facilities bond ever proposed by any district in East Multnomah County.

The all-volunteer board voted to go ahead with the $299,170,000 bond at a board meeting Thursday, June 9.

School bonds have not fared well recently in East Multnomah County. In the May 17 election voters said no to three school bonds. They voted down a $125 million bond for Mt. Hood Community College, a $85 million bond for Centennial School District and a $11.9 million for Corbett School District. Reynolds School District was able to pass a $125 million bond in May 2015.

The board was not deterred. Although board member John Hartsock said that “this is really a hard decision for me.” He said that although there is “no doubt about the need, I do feel we owe an explanation to the public on how this improves education.”

Board member Sharon Garner emphasized that “our students are at the center of everything we are proposing.”

If the bond passes, projects include major upgrades to Gresham and Sam Barlow high schools, which would be about half of the total of a $299.2 million bond. East and North Gresham elementary schools would be replaced at a cost of about $29 million each. Spending for elementary schools would be about 25 percent of the bond total. The rest of the funds will be used for varied projects including safety and security upgrades.

Over the last year, Gresham-Barlow has held more than 50 public meetings and listening sessions to get input from the community on what improvements need to be made to the 18 district schools. They sought feedback online, though the mail, in phone calls and in public meetings.

A citizen Bond Measure Planning Committee held a series of meetings and got input from students, parents, community members, individual school staff and the administration. The Committee came up with a list of projects that totaled $490 million and whittled that list down to $299.2 million.