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Phoenix-Talent eyes $72 million bond levy

PHOENIX — A $72 million investment in Phoenix-Talent School District infrastructure has been recommended by a community project advisory team, the school board and a planning firm.

The group came up with a long-range Facilities Master Plan, and a bond measure vote to finance the work is likely.

CSA Planning, Ltd., of Medford, prepared the report. It recommends reconfiguration of Phoenix High School and work to preserve and enhance three elementary schools and Talent Middle School. Safety, security and functionality were among the goals for the study, which looked at facility needs for the next 20 years.

“The bond steering committee is working on getting more information out to the public,” said Superintendent Brent Barry. “The steering committee hopes the board can have it ready for the November ballot.”

District staff will draft a resolution to place a bond measure on the November ballot for consideration at the August board meeting, Barry said.

A bond levy rate analysis shows a 30-year bond of $72 million would result in an assessment of $1.76 per $1,000 of valuation. Owners of property valued at $175,000 would pay $140 a year, while those with a house valued at $325,000 would pay $260 per year. A bond levy currently in place expires in 2020 and has a rate of 90 cents per $1,000 of valuation.

CSA found that the district overall has considerable capacity, although Orchard Hill Elementary may be near its maximum in 20 years. Needs for numerous upgrades were also discovered.

“My hope is that it will improve the safety and quality of learning for the children and safety for the staff,” said board member Dawn Watson, chair of the bond steering committee and a member of the advisory team.

Safety was a top concern at all schools, said Watson She noted the high school has 32 outside doors, making a lockdown a task that is not automatic. CSA initially proposed that $98 million in work was needed.

“We have gone through and taken what we feel isn’t completely necessary out and to make sure what we really have will work for a long time,” said Watson. Board members anticipate the high school could serve the district for 100 years, she said.

Rebuilding approximately two-thirds of the high school is recommended because the current structure has a number of issues related to function and life span. Construction of a new high school elsewhere would cost from $7 million to $15 million more than reconfiguration, which is estimated at $48.3 million.

“This is the one school where cost to retrofit and make the school fully functional may not represent a sound investment when compared to replacement, because almost every aspect of the school is in need of revision and replacement,” the study states.

The study also recommends a reconfiguration of the high school to avoid long-term enrollment risks. The district must compete for enrollment with nearby highs schools that are in better condition, the report concludes. Enrollment at the high school doesn’t follow from attendance at lower levels in the district, and current state transfer policies facilitate students going out of district.

Reconfiguration would include retaining the current theater and gymnasium complex. Classrooms in the north wing would be demolished, and new classrooms south of the gym and theater would be built. Work on the high school could be done in phases over time as additional capacity is needed.

Upgrades for Talent Middle School and Talent, Phoenix and Orchard Hill elementary schools are estimated to cost $22.87 million. Among the study’s findings:

• Seismic issues are the major safety concerns at all four campuses. The plan recommends reinforcement of the buildings.

• New roofing is needed at all buildings except Talent Middle School.

• HVAC systems at all facilities are nearing the end of their life cycles, and more energy-efficient units are advised.

• Built-in-place modular units at both Talent Elementary and Phoenix Elementary are nearing the end of their useful lives.

Enrollment forecasts for 10 years show elementary school attendance climbing from 1,302 currently to 1,444 for modest development or 1,690 for rapid growth. Middle school enrollment, now at 614, could range from 651 to 778. Future high school enrollment, at 812 currently, is projected to range from 880 to 1,043 by 2027.

Enrollment in 10 years would be at 91 percent of the optimum capacity for elementary schools, 76 percent for the middle schools and 87 percent for the high school under rapid development.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com