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Central Point schools 'in dire need'

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With three schools that were built before the first moon landing, Central Point School District officials say it's time to do some upgrades on their aging facilities.

"They're past their useful life in a lot of regards," said Spencer Davenport, the district's chief financial officer. "We're in dire need of upgrades."

Jackson County’s second-largest school district is floating the idea of a 30-year, $77 million bond to replace dated electrical, HVAC and plumbing systems, update safety and security measures, and create an early childhood learning center.

But there’s a major hurdle to overcome first: A poll commissioned by the district shows voters don’t want their taxes raised beyond the current rate of $1.14 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The district refinanced the current bond, passed in 2000, twice to get the levy down to that level.

“I don’t think there was anything particularly surprising,” Superintendent Samantha Steele said of the poll. “I don’t think anyone ever wants their taxes to be raised.”

The district has been collecting feedback through public meetings and social media to prioritize projects that voters would want to pay for.

“I think sometimes what happens is people get a great idea and say we’re going to go out and convince voters that this is what we need,” she said. “Our process was to find out what our community valued and would invest in, align that with what our staff knew needed to happen in buildings, so that by the time this ultimately gets to the voters, those priorities are truly aligned.”

School district officials have been working on the bond process since 2016, and in January last year appointed an eight-member facilities committee of board members, district staff and residents to determine building needs and to consult with the community.

The committee and district officials have visited every parent-teacher organization meeting, held community forums, assessed voters’ desires and perceptions in a 17-minute phone survey and contracted with a Portland-based architecture firm for the plans.

Three of the district’s in-town schools already are above capacity, and seven will be within a few years, according to latest enrollment projections, Steele said.

Jewett and Mae Richardson elementary schools do not have spaces large enough for schoolwide events.

Davenport said that at some schools, electrical capacity is “maxed out,” making it hard for students to use the increasing amount of digital technology involved with their classes.

The district also hopes to convert a former Asante property, once the site of the Genesis Recovery Center, into an early childhood learning center for kindergarten-age and first-grade students from Jewett , Mae Richardson and Central Point Elementary schools whose parents would opt in to the program (corrected).

Officials said construction costs are substantially higher than they were when the district passed its last bond.

Brad Bennington, executive officer for the Builders Association of Southern Oregon, said that’s not likely to improve as time goes on.

“We have an insufficient workforce. We have a very difficult situation in availability of building materials for the foreseeable future until the industry can get caught up, and we have increasing regulatory pressure,” he said. “All of those things are cost drivers that builders have nothing to do with.”

Before building and construction figure in, however, the district is still nailing down what it might be asking of voters with more community outreach this month.

“We’ve collected a lot of feedback to build the improvement plan,” Steele said. “Now we’re collecting feedback on the plan that we’ve developed.”

If the School Board decides to go out for a bond in the May 2019 election, it must meet a March 1 deadline to submit ballot title language. The final deadline to file for a measure with the Jackson County Clerk is March 21.

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

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Central Point schools Superintendent Samantha Steele stands at a former Asante site that would be converted into an early childhood center if a $77 million bond is approved.