Contractors join La Center schools' levy push

After first effort fell just shy, firms volunteer equipment, workers

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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On April 23, the La Center School District will try to accomplish something it's never successfully done before — pass a levy to upgrade its inadequate sports fields, adding lights, covered bleachers and scoreboards.

But after the first attempt to pass the levy fizzled in February by fewer than 30 votes, the district figured it couldn't again ramble into virgin territory alone. It would need a little help from its friends.

Budding partnerships between the district and several local contractors may be the key to moving the projects forward, said Josh Soske, an organizer for La Center's levy campaign.

Since voters rejected the levy's first go-around two months ago, engineering firms and construction companies have told the district they'll volunteer time, equipment and employees to help the upgrades take shape.

What this means for the school district: It will get more bang for its buck from the six-year levy. Ballots began arriving in district residents' mailboxes on Friday.

If approved by voters, the levy would generate $200,000 a year with a projected tax rate of between 27 and 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value.

Soske estimates that combined, the in-kind work is worth more than $100,000.

"If we're successful with the partnerships," Soske said, "we'll be in the position to do projects that aren't even on the wish list."

Companies that have stepped up, Soske said, include Vancouver-based Olson Engineering, which will conduct free on-site surveying; The Wolfe Group, out of Battle Ground, which will offer architectural drawings; and Meko Construction, from Woodinville, which will provide heavy earth-moving equipment.

"I consider all of this incredibly generous," he said.

Because the margin of defeat in the February election was so slim, Superintendent Mark Mansell said he's confident the district will have better luck the second time around.

That confidence stems from Mansell's belief that people will be more willing to support a levy if they know partnerships are taking shape. He refers to the levy as "seed money" that will push the projects forward, while compelling other volunteers to donate their time and keep costs low.

Those projects include field lighting, covered bleachers capable of seating 1,500 spectators and scoreboards. Other projects could include an all-weather track, a concession stand, permanent restrooms and stormwater improvements.

Currently, the field is little more than a barren pitch that is unsuitable for sports competitions.

The in-kind work offered by contractors would likely move forward even if the April 23 vote doesn't go in the school district's favor, Soske said.

But without voter support, the projects may not completely take shape, he acknowledged. After all, it will take a team effort from the community for the sports fields to take shape.

"What we're trying to do here is an old-fashioned barn-raising," he said.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities;tyler.graf@columbian.com