Knappa looks to bond to improve schools

Students from Hilda Lahti Elementary School study artwork on display at the Knappa High School art show in 2015.

KNAPPA — The Knappa School District has begun looking at a new property tax bond to improve its campuses, with a baseline of $10 million to avoid raising taxes beyond current levels.

The school district last passed a 20-year bond of $5.5 million in 2001 for campus improvements. The bond comes off the tax rolls in 2021. Like other districts, Knappa is looking at replacing it with another bond, the only way most can afford significant improvements or new construction.

An analysis by bond consultant Piper Jaffray found the school district could ask for $10 million without raising voters’ taxes above the level of $2.54 per $1,000 of assessed property value under the current bond, school Superintendent Paulette Johnson said. The district could also apply for a $4 million state matching grant if a bond passes.

Several school districts have recently passed large school improvement and construction bonds, including nearly $100 million for a new K-12 campus in Seaside; $38.5 million for a master campus and new middle school in Warrenton; and $70 million in Astoria for school improvements and a new academic wing at the middle school.

County voters also approved a $20 million bond to move the Clatsop County Jail in Astoria to a former state youth prison in Warrenton.

The Knappa School Board last year hired Portland firm DOWA-IBI Group to assess building needs after the school district received $55,000 in state grants. The company recently issued a final report detailing nearly $4.9 million in needed remodels and upgrades at Knappa High School and more than $3.8 million at Hilda Lahti Elementary School, including nearly $4 million combined to upgrade heating and ventilation systems. The firm also found $3.8 million needed in surrounding infrastructure improvements and nearly $4 million for safety and security, including more than $2.7 million to seismically upgrade the schools to withstand a large earthquake.

The report also laid out the potential cost of building a new 6,000-square-foot academic hall for middle schoolers in the K-8 Hilda Lahti campus at $2.5 million, a 9,000-square-foot multipurpose room for $2.9 million and a 15,000-square-foot multipurpose room for $5.1 million.

The state grants also paid for a public outreach campaign. The school district assembled a committee of 21 students, 21 staff, two principals and Johnson to look at the district’s educational needs. The committee’s recommendations focused on improving the district’s career-technical and technology offerings; partnering with Clatsop Community College and local industries; and improving the buildings’ physical environment and security.

With a list of needs vastly outstripping any realistic bond measure, school board members asked Johnson to gather more input from community and staff as to the school district’s biggest needs.

Cullen Bangs, vice chairman of the school board, said the school district only has a certain bond amount it can reach. “Looking through the list, you start hitting on the things that really need to be done, and there’s not a lot left,” he said. “It’s going to be down to a couple items here and there, and that’s where we’ll need to make a decision.”

Board member Ed Johnson cautioned that some people are already throwing cold water on the possibility of a new bond after the existing one expires.

“I’ve already heard comments … from community members saying, ‘Ah, you know, that school board. As soon as this bond expires, they’ll just want to pass another one,’” he said. “So you really need to have some good, solid stuff that people can believe in.”

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