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$25 million bond will go to voters

The decision on whether to fund new career and technical education facilities at Medford's North and South high schools will fall to district voters after the Medford School Board voted 6-1 Monday to put a $25 million bond measure on the May 15 ballot.

"I'm excited about moving forward," said School Board Chairwoman Karen Starchvick, calling the decision "the right thing to do for our community."

The ballot measure will ask voters to approve a $25 million bond issue to build two new CTE facilities, one at North and the other at South. Both buildings would include classrooms and work spaces for courses in carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Medford School District spokeswoman Natalie Hurd wouldn't offer estimates of costs to individual homeowners if the bond passes.

"We do have a general idea of what it’s going to look like, but we just want to make sure that we understand completely how it breaks down before we release that information to the public," she said. "It’s very market-driven, and we’ll have a more accurate idea closer to when we file."

Monday was the first time the $25 million figure was assigned to the project at a board meeting. On Jan. 22, Chief Operations Officer Brad Earl and Superintendent Brian Shumate projected the cost in the range of $15 million to $20 million. A $30 million projection was broached at the Feb. 5 meeting, when the district discussed asking for additional money for other facility needs, such as dealing with what are expected to be increasingly overcrowded elementary and middle schools.

Hurd said the $25 million includes some contingency funds — for "other capital improvements to district facilities," reads one part of the proposed bond measure — but she declined to specify how much.

"I think it’s safe to say we expect the majority of those funds to go toward those buildings and related expenses around that construction," she said.

School Board member Jim Horner, the only board member to vote against the measure Monday, said uncertainty surrounding costs to taxpayers was one reason he thought the district should wait until at least November to put the bond to a vote.

Horner said while he supports adding CTE facilities, three aspects of the project seem too undeveloped for him at present: determining the level of interest in the programs that would be offered; the cost of their operation; and how the project fits in with the district's long-range facilities plan. He read a three-page statement detailing his concerns.

"The worst possible scenario would be to build beautiful new CTE facilities and then go a couple years and discover when we look at our long-term facilities that we need a middle school for $70 million or so," he said. "But we've kind of tapped out our voter base, and maybe we have the CTE facilities only half full, because we really don't know how many are going to go in there."

Other board members and Shumate responded to Horner's concerns by saying they believe there is sufficient interest based on feedback they've received, such as from a town hall held last Wednesday.

Citing a shortage of construction labor in the Rogue Valley that has been driving up prices, some members said that delaying the project could increase costs. The labor shortage, some members said, is part of the reason they want to add more CTE programs as soon as possible.

The measure's language allocates some funding for improving existing facilities, which could be used to adapt Central Medford High School to alleviate increasing pressure in middle schools. Starchvick suggested that option would be considered before building another middle school.

"There's still a lot of work that can happen that can satisfy some of your concerns about what exactly the details are," board member Michael Campbell said. "Notwithstanding the fact that all we're asking for is permission."

Starchvick and Shumate will have to approve any changes made to the ballot measure's language before a Feb. 23 filing deadline, according to the resolution.

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

Students learn woodworking skills at North Medford High School, where a new career and technical education building is planned if a bond measure passes in May. South Medford is scheduled to get one, too. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]