Aging schools, growing elementary enrollment and low interest rates prompt Vancouver Public Schools to plan for future now

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Vancouver Public Schools’ board of directors approved a resolution to put a capital facilities bond measure on the ballot Feb. 14, 2017. If approved by voters, the bond would allow the district to build three new schools; replace, remodel and/or enlarge several schools; and provide improvements and updates to all other schools in the district. The board and district leaders hope to be able to take advantage of 40-year historic low interest rates to reduce the financial impact on taxpayers.

“Now is the best time to do this work,” said Board President Dale Rice. “We have a window of opportunity while interest rates are low. If we defer this investment, our financing and construction costs could double over the next 15 years.”

VPS is requesting the authority to sell up to $458 million in bonds to pay for additions and improvements to educational facilities, which were identified as being necessary through a two-year community engagement process. Bond measures require a 60 percent supermajority of ‘yes’ votes for approval.

The bond measure would:

  • Rebuild seven aging schools: King, Marshall, Ogden, Truman and Walnut Grove elementary schools; Fir Grove/Vista; and McLoughlin Middle School
  • Build two new elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding
  • Construct a larger, permanent school for Vancouver iTech Preparatory
  • Remodel and enlarge Sacajawea and Franklin elementary schools; Vancouver School of Arts and Academics; and Columbia River High School
  • Relocate the Lieser Campus to a renovated Marshall Elementary
  • Enhance safety and security measures at all sites
  • Accommodate smaller class sizes for kindergarten through third grade and eliminate approximately 60 portable classrooms throughout the district
  • Upgrade heating and cooling systems and improve energy efficiency
  • Upgrade roofs, flooring, windows where needed
  • Add accessible surfaces for playgrounds
  • Create spaces in schools for family engagement and community use
  • Restore Kiggins Bowl stadium

If approved, the proposed bond measure is projected to increase temporarily the bond tax rate by $.09 per $1,000 of assessed property value for three years. When combined with the existing bonds, the bond rate is projected to be $1.52 per $1,000 of assessed value for tax collection years 2018-2020 and then drop to $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed value starting in 2021.

“For the owner of a $225,290 median-priced home, the proposed change in the bond tax rate means a temporary three-year increase 9 cents, or approximately $20 per year before the rate decreases by 17 cents,” said Superintendent Steve Webb. “This bond measure is about creating equitable learning environments so all VPS students benefit from a 21st century education.”

On average, the schools slated for replacement are more than half a century old. They were built without adequate wiring for computers and the Internet, and they lack current safety standards for earthquakes. They are less energy-efficient and have more maintenance requirements than newer schools.

The estimated cost of the entire bond program, which includes improvements to every school in the district, is $562.8 million. This total cost is offset by other revenue sources including a $43 million class-size reduction grant from the state, local impact fees estimated at $12 million and state assistance (match) funds estimated at $50 million.