La Center schools look to address crowding

Growing district to ask voters to approve construction bond in February

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

Published:

 

If You Go

• What: Citizens for La Center Schools volunteer meeting.

• When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

 Where: La Center Community Center, 1000 E. Fourth St., La Center.

• For more information, visit www.facebook.com/lacenterbond or www.4lcs.webs.com.

LA CENTER — Finding room for all roughly 1,700 students in the La Center School District has turned into a slider puzzle of sorts for Superintendent Dave Holmes and other district officials.

The district started putting in portables to deal with the growing population, and with nine portables — each equipped with two classrooms — at the K-8 campus, the district has nearly run out of room to put in another one. The district started shifting around offices, clearing out closet space, to help make extra room. Holmes has also suggested moving kindergarten to portables at the La Center High School campus starting next year, although the school board has yet to vote on that.

But the most significant relief for the district will be decided by voters in February, when the district puts a bond up for vote to build a new school.

“Over the last 10 years, our enrollment has gone straight up,” Holmes said. “We added portables, but those were supposed to be temporary classrooms. Instead, we keep adding them on and on and on. We’re maxed out on portables.”

The school board is still working through the bond process, and will vote on the exact bond measure to put on the ballot in October.

Currently, there are three options for the bond and what to use it for. The first calls for the district to put a $35.5 million bond up for vote to build a new campus for pre-kindergarten through third grade. The second would ask voters to approve a $44.6 million bond for a new pre-kindergarten through fourth grade school, and the last option is a $42.6 million bond for a new 6-8 middle school.

If a new school is built, the current K-8 campus will host whatever students aren’t eligible for the new one. So, if the district builds a new 6-8 campus, all students in those grades will go to the new school, while the current K-8 campus will be open for students through fifth grade.

The new school would be the first built in the district since La Center High School was constructed in 1991. La Center Elementary School and La Center Middle School were built in 1961. The high school was renovated in 2006, and the other two schools were renovated in 2004.

The district has seen a 19.8 percent increase in enrollment in the last seven years, according to a presentation from the district. Holmes said that La Center also has numerous housing developments under construction or nearing construction, which could see somewhere in the range of 700 additional students coming into the district in the future. If some projections come true, the new school could be at capacity the day it opens, which will be in September 2020 at earliest.

Holmes said the district can’t build a bigger school than the current options because it can’t ask for a larger bond, since that amount is based on the value of all assessed property in the district.

In the meantime, Holmes is trying to figure out where to put all the students in the district currently. He said if the K-8 campus were to add another portable, it would have to go on the utility ball field, which would take away from physical education classes and community athletics. It could fit on the track at the elementary school, but to get the portable in place, it would have to be lifted up on a crane to clear the buildings blocking the track, which is too expensive.

If the district does move kindergarten to portables at the high school, that would clear up six classrooms at the K-8 campus. Holmes said if that happens, he’d want to create a class for high-schoolers to go read and spend time with the kindergarten students.

“The kindergarten students get a reading buddy or math buddy, and the high school students get a vocational class for credit,” he said. “It’s a class with lab experience.”

To pass the bond, the district will need a turnout of at least 40 percent of voters who cast ballots in the upcoming November general election, and a 60 percent supermajority of that turnout to vote in favor. The last time the district ran a bond vote, in May 2008, it failed with just 40 percent approval. District officials discussed running a bond vote the following year for a new elementary school, but decided against it.

Citizens for La Center Schools, a community group, has already started working to get information out about the bond vote.

Melinda Mazna, chairwoman of the group, said she and volunteers are going around to as many school and city events as possible to inform people about the bond vote and why they think it’s needed. They’re also bringing voter registration forms to try and get people to register to vote, if they aren’t already.

“Our city is growing,” she said. “Our population is getting bigger, and we’re expecting much more. We need to get ahead of the game.”

Frank Mazna, Melinda’s husband and a community volunteer, said he wants his community to be educated, and the city needs places to put kids so they can have safe learning spaces.

So far, Melinda Mazna said when she’s gone out in the community to speak to people, a majority of the people she speaks with recognize there is a need in the city for another school.

“Even people who don’t want La Center to grow see the need,” she said.

She said the district needs the community to come out and support it, just like they did when volunteers constructed the high school’s new football stadium using donated materials.

“The community contributed that stadium,” she said. “We need them to come out to vote. We can’t build a school on donations.”