Cheney delays high school bond vote to 2015
School board approves using $3.6 million in unused 2010 bond revenue on capital facilities needs
Some of the new teachers coming to the Cheney School District this fall took time out from orientation last Wednesday for a first-ever “new teacher” group photo at the district’s administration site on Andrus Road. From left to right are Betz Elementary fourth-grade teacher Heather Curley, Westwood Middle School library media/technology specialist Nicole Larson, Cheney High School language arts teacher Sara Leonetti, Betz Elementary fifth-grade teachers Scott Marshall and Lori Jenne and Cheney High School staff counselor Lisa Prewitt.The city of Cheney can be seen in the background.
Renovating and expanding Cheney High School will have to wait at least another year.
The Cheney School Board voted 4-1 at its Aug. 21 meeting to delay until 2015 a bond vote to fund high school renovation work. The bond would raise $44.9 million for work at the high school that includes 12 new classrooms, a larger cafeteria, redesign to ease overcrowding and student traffic flow along with a 700-seat performing arts auditorium.
The board made its decision after a public process that included research and recommendations from a citizens advisory committee, public hearing and comments and a pair of work sessions on bond issues.
Director Rick Mount said he was sensitive to the timing of the bond vote, noting the district passed a bond in 2010 to build two new middle schools – one-year-old Cheney Middle and Westwood – and the soon to open Snowdon Elementary School. Directors Henry Brown, Suzanne Dolle and Marcie Estrellado agreed, with the lone dissenting vote coming from Director James Whiteley, who questioned even a 2015 vote.
“2014 is too early, and I have concerns about 2015,” he said.
The school board also held a public hearing on proposed capital improvements to district facilities prior to voting on how to use remaining revenue collected from the 2010 bonds, but not spent on construction of the three schools.
The vote was an amendment adding a list of improvements needed at various district facilities to the 2009 bond resolution. Jeff McClure, district director of maintenance, operations and safety, presented the list to the board during an Aug. 7 meeting work session.
The extensive list included improvement of security systems at all elementary schools and transportation facility, building security improvements at the high school, replacement of fire protection systems at the elementary schools and high school as well as numerous capital facilities improvements ranging from roof repairs to new classroom equipment. McClure gave a figure of $2,750,150 for the list of repairs at the Aug. 7 meeting.
During the Aug. 21 public hearing, Cheney resident Bill Johns presented the board with an alternative list of possible uses for the money. He proposed construction of Three Springs Alternative High School at the district’s administration facility on Andrus Road rather than at the high school, restoration of the 5 percent reserve fund, repairs to Salnave Elementary not done in 2001 when the other elementary schools were updated to 2002 standards and paying down the principal bonds receiving federal interest reimbursements, calculated at $3 million.
Johns also asked that if the board approved the facilities list presented by McClure, that there be a more transparent process through open bids, quotes from the small works roster of approved contractors or changing repairs into actual projects, with results brought before the school board for approval at a regular meeting.
During the action item addressing the capital facilities resolution, district bond counsel Laura McAloon of K&L Gates law firm said items 1 and 3 on Johns’ list, Three Springs and Salnave, were good uses for the funds, which she put at $3,674,520, coming mostly from interest payments and rebates. Restoring the 5 percent reserve would not directly be allowed under state and federal laws, while paying down the debt service would be.
McAloon added restoring the reserve might be achieved if the bond funds were used in such ways that they freed up funds the district could then redirect to the reserve. By approving the resolution authorizing use of the unused bond funds, McAloon said the district wasn’t committing to everything on the proposed capital facilities list.
“It doesn’t mean you have to complete the projects,” she said. “It gives you flexibility once all funds are known to be available.”
Mount noted moving Three Springs to the Andrus Road site had been ruled out due to students’ transportation issues, and Salnave hadn’t been upgraded because the state didn’t provide matching funds. In addressing Three Springs, Superintendent Dr. Debra Clemens said the two high schools share some of the same staff, while McClure told the board Salnave’s education section upstairs was all per standards, while the downstairs improvements were just “bricks and mortar.”
As for the bid process, McClure said the district follows state laws, bidding out projects above $300,000 while selecting approved contractors off the small works roster for projects below. The district can also contact three contractors it’s used on past projects and ask them to bid any work, selecting the lowest bid.
“We’re a public school district, that’s the way it works,” McClure said, adding later that a contractor could be selected for other reasons than low bid, such as work history with the district.
Clemens also pointed out that one of the items on McClure’s list, work on the new site of HomeWorks at Andrus Road, was needed immediately in order to have the district resources available for home school students when classes start Sept. 4.
The board approved the resolution authorizing use of the unused bond revenue on McClure’s list.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.