Astoria moves closer to $70m school bond

A proposed $70 million school bond would include a $44.9 million modernization of Astoria Middle School.

A facilities committee has preliminarily recommended a $70 million bond in November to modernize the Astoria School District’s five campuses.

The panel has been prioritizing projects over the past couple of months to find an amount the community might support, architectural consultant Tom Bates said.

The highest priority is a $44.9 million modernization of Astoria Middle School, including replacement of an antiquated classroom wing with a new three-story hall, each containing identical learning communities. Built in 1968, the middle school was largely untouched by the $21.4 million bond voters passed for the school district in 2000.

A survey found a lack of public understanding about the condition of the middle school, which faces settling in the foundation from the filled-in ravine the campus was built on. Staff have also complained of undersized, triangular classrooms that lack natural light and proper ventilation. The school district needs to educate the community on the challenges facing the middle school, Bates said.

John Jacob Astor Elementary School, the committee’s second-highest priority, would receive $9 million to improve security, fix utilities, add classrooms and covered play space and refurbish an old gym into a new multipurpose cafeteria.

The high school, the third priority, would get $19.6 million for modernization and security improvements. In the wake of recent school shootings, the high school has become a security concern, with more than 70 entrances around campus.

The school district also wants to modernize the high school’s existing wood shop into an industrial arts center catering more to career-technical education, while enlarging and modernizing antiquated science labs. A plan to modernize the high school’s auditorium was scaled back after coming up low on the public’s priority list.

Capt. Robert Gray School — home of the district offices, alternative high school and preschool programs — would receive slightly more than $1 million in building improvements. Lewis and Clark Elementary School, constructed with money from the 2000 bond, would receive $420,000 to fix exterior issues and upgrade technology.

The improvements add up to $75 million between the five campuses. The district will receive a $4 million match from the state if the bond passes. The facilities committee recommended using $1 million in interest earnings from the bond to cover the remainder of the project.

The 2000 bond, expiring next year, originally cost voters $2.53 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Because of property value increases and bond refinancing, the tax rate has decreased to $1.83 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

A $70 million bond spread over 30 years would bring the district’s tax rate back to $2.53 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Bates said, the same rate voters supported in 2000. Shortening the bond to 25 years would increase the tax rate to $2.83 per $1,000. The district could also insert steps into a 30-year bond, lowering the tax rate paid after 20 years in anticipation of another bond, Bates said.

The school district is preparing for another round of phone surveys after the May election, said Astoria Superintendent Craig Hoppes. The survey will focus more on specific project amounts and what voters are comfortable paying, he said.

A final recommendation will be brought to the school board next month, and the board will likely decide in July whether to pursue a bond.

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