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Medford School District considers gifted land for new school

The Medford School District has identified property in north Medford as a potential site for the district’s 15th, non-charter elementary school. The best part: It’s free.

The co-owners of the property — Douglas Simpson of Coker Butte Development LLC and Howard Kimmel of O’Side Industry LLC — have expressed an intent to donate 20 acres of land near East Vilas Road and Crater Lake Highway to the school district. But the donation is contingent on the land being brought into Medford’s urban growth boundary.

The Medford School Board earlier this week approved the district’s revised Long Range Facility Plan, which included the property as an option for a new elementary school. The board will decide whether to accept the gift pledge at a future meeting. Board Chairman Jeff Thomas said he doesn't foresee any issues with the acquisition. 

"If you're elected to the 549C School Board, you are trying to bring as many resources as possible to the district, so if you have community members wanting to donate, then it's prudent to accept that," Thomas said. "Then, when you build the new school, you won't have land acquisition costs, and you'll be able to build the school for fewer dollars, which will save the taxpayers dollars." 

At Monday’s meeting, Brad Earl, the district’s chief financial officer, told the board the property was “pretty ideally suited for what we need it for.”

Currently, the district has enough space to accommodate an additional 478 elementary students, while providing space for community partners such as Kids Unlimited, Southern Oregon Education Service District, the YMCA, Head Start, and SMART (Start Making a Reader Today). Without those programs, the district would have room for an additional 968 elementary students.

Nonetheless, based on enrollment projections, the district could easily exceed the space available in the next seven to 10 years, Earl said.

Griffin Creek, Hoover and Lone Pine elementary schools already have exceeded their capacity, forcing the district to look at relocating or consolidating programs, limiting the number of transfers, and adding “floating” teachers instead of additional classrooms, said Julie Evans, director of elementary education.

When Lone Pine exceeded its capacity last year, the district redrew boundary lines to shift students to Wilson Elementary, which had space to accommodate more students.

When the district adds full-day kindergarten in fall 2015, some schools will need to lease or purchase modular units, which have the capacity to hold about 48 students in two classrooms to provide short-term relief, Evans said.

If the board agrees to accept the 20 acres in north Medford, the district will work with the property owners in asking the city to bring the land into the urban growth boundary. The 20 acres are part of a 76-acre tax lot. Simpson and Kimmel also co-own the neighboring 77-acre tax lot and another 2-acre tax lot across the street on Crater Lake Avenue.

“Basically, we have a master plan for the property, and the master plan is mixed-use with commercial, residential and a school site,” explained Mark Bartholomew, a Medford lawyer representing the property owners. “We feel the presence of a school site is beneficial to the overall development and makes it a more attractive candidate for inclusion in the urban growth boundary.”

Bianca Petrou, Medford’s assistant planning director, said the city is studying the area to determine whether to propose bringing it inside the UGB.

“But there is no proposal yet,” Petrou said.

“The city’s planning staff plans to go the City Council with an urban growth boundary expansion proposal, possibly, in 2015,” she added.

Earl estimated that the property could be worth between $1 million and $2 million. If the property were inside the UGB, it would be worth about four times that, he said.

While the land may be free, building a new elementary school would cost the district at least $15 million, Earl said.

“And that’s today’s money,” he added.

Earl and Superintendent Brian Shumate have discussed setting aside all or a portion of the district’s construction excise tax as a down payment on a new school.

Other options, such as refinancing existing debt to provide more room to borrow or asking the public for another bond, would require voter approval, Earl said.

A new middle school also is part of the district's five- to 10-year plan. A middle school could cost the district about $78.8 million unless it opted to renovate the Medford School District Education Center, which currently houses Central Medford High School and the district's administrative offices, for $55.5 million.

 Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

The Medford School District has identified property near East Vilas Road and Crater Lake Highway as a potential site for a future elementary school. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell