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Laying the groundwork

Details such as cost and financing methods have yet to be nailed down as the Medford School District considers whether to build new career and technical education facilities at North and South Medford high schools.

But the public can start getting up to speed on district proposals at a town hall meeting from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, in the Education Center Board Room, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford.

When Medford administrators announced their intention at a Jan. 22 School Board work session to pursue the building projects, Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl estimated a cost range of $15 million to $20 million. At a special board meeting Monday night, however, the price range had crept upward — a $20 million price tag seemed like the minimum, and a new $30 million option made its way into the discussion.

The larger numbers sprang from another potentially costly concern: Increased pressure from overcrowded elementary and middle schools may lead the district to consider construction or remodeling of other buildings as well.

"The thing I wonder about is the total big picture," board member Jim Horner said at the meeting after Earl presented payment options for the CTE buildings.

"We've talked about maybe we'll need a middle school, and we've looked at the projected demographics — what if we needed a high school?" he said. "We want to make sure we don't set up something that jams us up 10, 15 years."

The district brought in legal counsel to project what various financing options might cost taxpayers. Earl walked board members and administrators through one in detail, a payment method called "wrapping around." This would mean setting a payment schedule that would pay only interest on a new bond while taxpayers finished paying off an existing $189 million bond until 2033. Once they finish paying off the first bond, taxpayers would then switch to paying the principal on the second bond for another two or four years, depending on the bond's size.

A wraparound model would keep tax impacts level across the 16 remaining years of the existing bond passed by voters in 2006, which funded renovation and replacement of schools across the district. That bond was refinanced in 2015, and homeowners' payments dropped from $1.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2014 to $1.57 this year.

Earl said it's too early to precisely predict an annual cost to taxpayers because interest rates, bond prices and home values will likely change by the time any bond would go into effect.

"By our estimation, on a $250,000 home the impact would be about a $26 a year increase in this scenario," he told the board.

Earl said that for a $30 million bond, payments would likely extend four years beyond the end date for the existing bond.

The board expects to decide at its Feb. 12 meeting whether it will file to put a measure on the May ballot, board Chair Karen Starchvick said. Few details will be determined before then. 

"That’s the kind of stuff that gets worked out after voters pass the bond," she said.

Proposed facilities include a new building at South Medford High School, with shops and classrooms for four courses, in carpentry, electrical work, plumbing and heating and ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Plans include welding booths, swing-out walls for electrical installations, and drafting and computer labs.

"We figured we had to build for two programs, so we might as well build for four," Brian Shumate, Medford's superintendent, said in January.

At North Medford, plans call for demolition and remodeling to bring two existing structures together under one roof. The new configuration would add work spaces for the same four programs as those at South, and would continue to house an already-existing auto body workshop and robotics lab.

School districts across the state are zeroing in on CTE as a path to higher graduation rates. Students who earned at least one CTE credit during their four years at North Medford graduated at a rate 8.9 percent higher than the schoolwide rate; at South Medford the difference was 9.1 percent.

"It's really about hope and opportunity," Starchvick said. "The numbers illustrated that for the price of Dutch Bros. once a month, we can provide a tremendous increase in the amount of opportunities for kids."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.

Isabelle Pyles, left, 15, Madison Harrington, 14, and Lucas Alger, learn how to test a battery Tuesday during their automotive class. School district officials are investigating options for adding more career and technical education facilities at Medford high schools. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]