July 4, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 11

Board gets high school upgrade OK

Citizens Facility Advisory Committee recommends $44.9 million upgrade of Cheney school building

The Cheney School District board of directors heard a recommendation to renovate the district’s high school at their only meeting in June last Wednesday night. Directors were also offered an alternate plan presented by one of the members of the Citizens Facility Advisor Committee that would be about a quarter of the cost of the proposed $44.9 million plan adding more classrooms, relocating administration offices and expanding the commons area while also building a new gym and a 700-seat performing arts center.

Committee chair Richard Harris read a letter to the board in making the recommendation to proceed with the renovations and the selling of bonds to pay for the project, which would be done in phases. According to the committee the bonds would add 89 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation to the current rate.

The first phase adds 18,750 square feet, most made up of 12 new classrooms, to the north portion of the high school while also renovating 900 square feet, all at a price of $9 million. The second phase, dubbed Phase 1B, adds a 3,600 square foot wrestling/aerobics facility at $1.5 million.

Three Springs Alternative High School would be moved from its current location next to the Fisher Building into a new, 5,500 square foot facility under the $2.3 million Phase 1C, with a new 7,400 square foot gym built under the $3.1 million Phase 1D. Phase 1E adds the 22,600 square foot performing arts complex while renovating another 8,800 square feet at an estimated $13.9 million with the commons/administration work adding 5,150 square feet while renovating 38,150 square feet wrapping up the work at $15.1 million.

The committee recommended holding off on a Phase 2 renovation of the rest of the existing building until 2025 when an estimated $25 million in state matching funds would be available to help out with the $42.9 million upgrade.

During public comment, committee member Bill Johns provided the board with an alternative to the committee’s recommendation, what he termed a “minority report.” Under his plan, the proposed classroom remodel along with a Three Springs High School that stayed at its current size of 2,700 square feet and a scaled back commons/administration addition would be all that is needed at an estimated cost of $11.65 million.

Johns noted there is already an existing wrestling room as well as two gyms and a theater at the high school, as well as one at the recently opened new Cheney Middle School. Johns said the information contained in the committee’s recommendation was mostly a “want list” presented by high school staff with no vetting by the committee. He also claimed the proposed tax rate would be more than what was presented.

“What concerns me is this is a new tax above any we have right now,” he said. Johns also noted that the district’s elementary schools would be in need of renovation in around 10 years, and if the current growth rate of about 3 percent were maintained, another elementary school would be needed.

Other citizens present at Wednesday’s meeting offered their endorsement of the committee’s plans. CHS math teacher and Cheney Education Association representative Karen Runyon said the organization supports the renovation plans, and took issue somewhat with Johns assessment of wants and needs.

“I truly believe some of those wants are needs if we want to support our kids,” Runyon said. “The performing arts center is long overdue.”

Director Rick Mount questioned Harris about the committee’s vote and if they felt they were given enough information to make a good decision. Harris said the committee was in agreement regarding the classroom additions, but that questions did come up around the gyms and the performing arts center.

“I still believe these are all needs,” Harris added.

Board president Suzanne Dolle thanked everyone for their input, adding they will take all suggestions, including Johns’ proposal, under consideration in coming to a decision, and will likely review the material in a work session.

“It took the committee a lot of time to come up with the recommendation so the board will take some time also,” she said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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