Controversial 'vision' for consolidating high schools still part of the discussion

REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - School board members listen to a presentation prior to unanimously approving the Long Range Facilities Plan on Monday. From left: presenter Randy Miller, the school districts executive director of project management, superintendents administrative assistant Shari Huffmaster, board member Bob Barman, board member John Wallin, Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck and board member Sarah Howell (The boards Chairwoman Liz Hartman and board member John Wendland are behind Howell.) Two TV cameras stayed trained on the gathering during the discussion, public comment and vote.Members of the Lake Oswego School Board moved a step closer Monday night to placing a bond measure on the November ballot, unanimously approving a Long Range Facilities Plan that keeps intact a controversial “vision” for merging the district's two high schools.

WALLIN“I can support this as the first baby step along the way,” school board member John Wallin said before the vote. “I don’t think it ties our hands. I don’t think it directs the board to do any one of the visions.”

Most of the criticism of the Long Range Facilities Plan has surrounded its three conceptual “visions” for the future — particularly Vision 3, which would involve combining Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools on the LOHS campus and consolidating the district's two junior high schools at Lakeridge.

Vision 3 remains in the plan as a potential idea for the future, but the board did not take action Monday to pursue further study of the concept. Instead, board members said they will wait to hear what the public has to say on, an online community discussion platform that launched on Wednesday, Feb. 10.

BECK“We’re just trying to start a conversation,” Superintendent Heather Beck said.

The Long Range Facilities Planning Committee, a 32-member group of community members and local school representatives, created the 25-year facilities plan to address growth, capacity and at least $98 million in deferred maintenance and seismic upgrades, not including soft costs such as design. Crafting a long-range plan that looks at least 10 years into the future is a state requirement before placing a bond measure on the ballot, which the district plans to do on Nov. 8.

Speaking out

Although a few community members spoke in favor of Vision 3 at a Jan. 20 public input meeting, most who testified said they were against the concept. A few community members also testified on Monday, before board members voted but after they had expressed their intention to approve the plan as the committee created it.

“I think a lot of parents and community members are very concerned about the potential negatives for consolidation,” said Ben Patinkin, a Lake Oswego resident and parent of two children, ages 4 and 7.

Karie Jett, who has spoken out against Vision 3 previously and posted about it on the Facebook page for the Westridge Elementary School Parent Teacher Student Organization, also testified.

HARTMAN“You adopted the whole thing when you could have adopted the whole thing minus the consolidation,” Jett said.

Lake Oswegan Phil Huntington told the board he simply wanted to ensure that buildings are strong enough to keep students safe. Liz Hartman, chairwoman of the school board, recommended he reach out to Beck.

After public comment, Wallin proposed adding the word “study” to the Long Range Facilities Plan to emphasize the idea that consolidation is not imminent but merely conceptual. Wallin also mentioned Lakeridge High School senior Matthew Jordan, who presented board members with a petition signed by 1,189 opponents of consolidation. He said Jordan gathered almost all of those signatures within 48 hours.

“I think it’s pretty clear the community doesn’t see itself in Vision 3,” Wallin said.

HOWELLBut board member Sarah Howell said that if the board started editing the plan, it would eat up precious time with a list of projects still to compile for the bond. Wallin said he, too, wanted the process to keep going, and that adding a word was just a spontaneous idea.

Hartman said she supports the plan — though not necessarily everything in it — and that she respects the hard work of the committee.

“I believe it’s so time for this,” she said. “We’ve got to get moving.”

Although there’s more to do, the planning process has already been in the works for months. The Long Range Facilities Planning Committee met 15 times from September to January, offering three public input sessions on the plan before formally presenting it to the board during a work session Jan. 25.

In the plan, the committee made recommendations that include reviewing the cost of relocating the district’s Technology and Administration buildings, performing a cost/benefit analysis for relocating the Bus Barn, researching options for providing swimming pool access to students, and performing a cost/benefit analysis of the long-term lease or sale of any closed or repurposed school properties.

The committee also recommended creating a Bond Accountability Committee to ensure that projects are properly executed, as well as establishing a standing facilities committee to monitor evolving facilities’ needs. Another recommendation is to set up a fund for annual building maintenance that will remain protected even during economic downturns, because much of the current maintenance was deferred during the Great Recession in favor of better supporting personnel and schools.

Exchanging thoughts

In addition, the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee recommended obtaining further community feedback about priorities and the possibility of combining schools through Thoughtexchange (

From Feb. 10-21, participants in the "Share" phase will be able to offer their thoughts and ideas by answering open-ended questions. Then, in the "Star" phase from Feb. 26-March 6, participants will see each other’s ideas and put stars by what they believe is most important.

The process will end in the "Discover" phase; results will be released March 28 to reveal what is most important to the community as a whole.

Beck said this week that the district will gauge public opinion in other ways as well.

“We are going to go out for a poll” later this year, she explained.

School board members plan to give direction to Beck at a future meeting about which projects they’d like to see included in a bond measure, and a Feb. 22 meeting will focus on academic achievement. Beck will form a Bond Development Committee that will, with public input, create a recommended list of projects for the board’s approval.

MILLERThis is not the first time the district has given the nod to a long-term plan for facilities. Such a plan was adopted in 2009 because it became a state requirement at the time for districts to do so, said Randy Miller, executive director of project management. Voters last approved a bond measure for the district in November 2000; the $85 million bond supported rebuilding Lake Oswego High School and remodeling Lakeridge High School. Part of the reason the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee recommended creating a Bond Accountability Committee to supervise the next bond projects is that the district ended up in litigation with its contractors for the high school bond because construction did not match the agreed-upon plans.

“The past issues are representative of things we want to avoid,” Miller said.

No matter what challenges await in the current bond process, however, it seems the district will have supporters along the way.

Just as the Monday meeting was about to come to a close, Hartman called for any additional comments. Lakeridge High special ed assistant Jennifer Nielsen raised her hand and then complimented the committee, board and district leaders.

“I want to thank all of you for your time, your dedication and your intelligence in looking at this (plan) as a whole,” she said.

By Jillian Daley
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