The Washougal School District has already raised more than half the money it needs to finance the multimillion-dollar construction of three new school buildings in the next two years.
District officials announced Wednesday that they recently issued the first portion of the bonds that will fund a $57.6 million facility upgrade project set to begin this summer. Late last month, the district issued bonds to cover $30 million of that cost. Plans are in the works to sell the rest of the bonds next year.
The bulk of the money will go toward replacing Jemtegaard Middle School with a larger building and adding a new elementary school on the same property. Other portions will cover the cost of security upgrades at several campuses, and the construction of a new bus barn and a larger building for Excelsior, the district’s small alternative high school.
The push for bigger facilities in the district started several years ago, when student enrollment began to butt up against capacity limits. Since then, the district has used more and more portables to house the growing student body.
27 portable classrooms
This year, the district has 14 portables, with 27 portable classrooms altogether. In 2008, district leaders failed to get enough support from voters to pass a $55 million bond measure that aimed to create more space for students.
They tried again in February, this time getting 60.94 percent approval, just enough to move the measure along.
“These are critical needs and we are very appreciative of the community’s support for our students and schools,” said Superintendent Dawn Tarzian in a prepared statement. “Moving these projects forward is a significant achievement, one of which I am very proud. It is the culmination of a great deal of work from volunteers and staff.”
District officials anticipate they’ll be able to pay back the bonds in 20 years. The first batch was sold at a 3.51 percent interest rate, which is near historic lows.
The earliest signs of construction will appear this summer, as fences go up around Jemtegaard. Some of the first projects won’t get started until summer 2016, though, when crews begin remodeling entrances at several schools to enhance security.
Architectural designs for the buildings are still in the works, and two of the new schools will fall within the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area. With that in mind, the district is hosting a facility design symposium tonight at Jemtegaard, 35300 S.E. Evergreen Highway, to see what the community wants in the new buildings.
A group from LSW Architects, which has been hired to lead the design process, will attend. The event, which begins at 5 p.m., also will give the community a chance to meet incoming Superintendent Mike Stromme, who will take over for Tarzian this summer.
The district is planning to serve dinner at the symposium, so administrators have asked anyone planning to attend to RSVP by calling Cassi Marshall or Kori Kelly at 360-954-3005 or by emailing email@example.com.