High school site at issue in Woodland

Some business owners warn against industrial location

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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Built in 1953, Woodland High School is a product of a bygone era, with portable buildings, an open campus, and gym and cafeteria space that doesn’t meet the needs of present-day students, school district officials say. The time is right to build a new high school, many residents agree, but the question of where remains a point of contention for some.

Woodland voters have until April 17 to submit ballots on the Woodland School District’s requested $52.8 million bond measure, primarily focused on building a new high school. The Woodland City Council, Port of Woodland and Woodland Chamber of Commerce have offered public support of the bond issue and its proposed 40-acre Dike Access Road location, whose $3 million purchase voters approved in 2005.

Some business owners in Woodland warn that placing the new school in an industrial zone will hurt business development and, in doing so, make it difficult to pay off the massive bond measure. They say an alternative site, perhaps in a residential area, should be considered.

The bond issue proposal includes money for a new, 147,000-square-foot high school; a new gym at Yale Elementary School; and other safety, security and energy efficiency improvements at all the district’s schools. The bond issue must receive more than 60 percent support to pass.

The total price tag is $63,835,000, but the school district is eligible for $11 million in matching dollars from the state upon approval of the bond, making the cost to taxpayers significantly less, officials said. Residents would pay 96 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value, or $16 per month for the owner of a $200,000 home.

School district officials are optimistic that this year won’t be a repeat of 2008, when voters rejected a $49.4 million bond issue. The failed 2008 bond measure would have cost residents $1.47 per $1,000 of assessed home value.

School officials point to the decreased cost for taxpayers, reduced interest rates and increased matching dollars as reasons why now is the best time to pass a bond issue, in spite of a sluggish local and national economy. If this bond issue passes, construction will likely start in the summer of 2013, with an anticipated school opening in the fall of 2015 or 2016, Superintendent Michael Green said.

“The leaders in the community recognize the need and value a school will add in the community,” Green said when asked what the council, port and chamber’s collective support meant.

Woodland High serves more than 600 students. Its classrooms, cafeteria, gym and commons area were built to accommodate hundreds less, Green said.

The school’s entire student population cannot fit into the gym or cafeteria/commons area without violating fire codes. The school does not have a centralized entrance point for visitors, thus raising safety concerns.

The proposed high school would have class size for 850 to 900 students, Green said. Expansions could increase its capacity to 1,200 students.

Woodland High graduate Randy Sorensen described the school as being in “dire straits.” Sorensen has had two daughters graduate from the school, and a third daughter attends the school.

“Woodland’s going to grow,” Sorensen said, referring the need to address future overcrowding concerns at the high school. “Some people want to leave it the same, but it’s not going to happen.”

The proposed high school’s location would prevent growth, Darlene Johnson argued.

“We need another school, but we need a tax base,” said Johnson, co-owner of Woodland Truck Line. “And they’re going to kill the tax base. I can’t get Michael Green to understand that, and to me it’s so plain.”

Others have decided to support the bond issue in spite of their doubts.

“I was a little concerned with where it’s at, but we need to get a school built, and this is the best time to build one,” said J.J. Burke, director of the Woodland Chamber of Commerce and a Woodland City Council member.

More about Woodland’s school bond issue is available at http://www.woodland.wednet.edu.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://www.facebook.com/raylegend ; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.