Warrenton might float bonds to move schools

A facilities planning committee has recommended using several bond measures to relocate Warrenton High School, top, and Warrenton Grade School out of the tsunami inundation zone.

WARRENTON — A facilities planning committee has recommended a series of three bond measures over the next 14 years to relocate the quickly growing Warrenton-Hammond School District out of the tsunami inundation zone.

The recommendation calls for a $32.4 million bond measure in the November election to buy a new 70- to 80-acre master campus and build a middle school. Warrenton High School would be relocated with a bond measure in May 2022. The rest of the preschool and elementary grades would be relocated from Warrenton Grade School in a May 2032 bond measure.

Schools consultant Scott Rose, hired by the district to assess facilities in advance of a potential bond, outlined to the Warrenton-Hammond School Board Wednesday why building in tsunami zones isn’t financially prudent.

“For any renovations, additions that you do, you must upgrade to tsunami impact resistance,” Rose said. “This is a very stout structural code. So if you start to renovate too much of your existing facility, you have to bring the entire existing facility up to that code.”

Both of Warrenton’s campuses are expected by June to be in a no-build zone for essential services established by state law, Rose said. The law was passed in the mid-1990s to restrict construction of essential facilities such as schools, fire, police and hospitals in tsunami inundation zones.

“Once that occurs, then you’re not allowed to do any additions there, or even replacement buildings,” Rose said.

As the region’s most affordable urban housing market, Warrenton grew from 4,100 people in 2000 to nearly 5,400 people last year, according to a forecast by Portland State University’s Population Research Center. The city is expected to add another 2,000 residents by 2035.

“We agreed that the 2 percent per year population growth is probably conservative,” said Mark Kujala, a former Warrenton mayor who helped present the committee’s findings.

Over the past decade, the district has grown by about 20 percent, topping 1,000 students for the first time last year. Superintendent Mark Jeffery has estimated enrollment will eventually peak at 1,159 students in the 2024-25 school year.

The district has had to be creative in fitting all the new students, filling every nook and cranny of the grade school and adding six two-classroom portables outside. The high school is also at capacity and will require portables for any new growth, the committee’s report said.

Seaside School District recently passed a $100 million bond measure to build a new K-12 campus on 80 acres donated by Weyerhaeuser out of the tsunami inundation zone. The district has a dramatically higher-value property tax base than Warrenton.

“We can’t go out for a $100 million general obligation bond,” Kujala said. “We need to do something in a phased-in approach. We also, at the same time, have to recognize that the ultimate goal is to relocate all of the classes and all of the grades to a new campus.”

The committee recommended acquiring the first right of refusal on a 70- to 80-acre plot of land for between $4 million and $6 million, with the purchase contingent on passage of a general obligation bond in the November election. The district would also sell property it owns in Hammond.

A $27.5 million middle school would be built for at least 260 students, with utilities, gyms and other features designed to eventually expand. The committee found moving the middle school grades out of the K-8 Warrenton Grade School would provide the least disruption to students, Kujala said.

The second phase would add the high school with a bond in the May 2022 election, while keeping portions of the old high school for a regional vocational center. The last phase would add preschool and elementary grades to the master campus with a May 2032 bond measure.

The bond for the campus and middle school is estimated to cost $2.49 per $1,000 worth of assessed property value, with a 25-year maturity. School Board Member Dan Jackson questioned how the district would pay off the subsequent bonds in a short time span.

Districts regularly refinance bonds to lower payments and go out for new bonds halfway through the maturity of existing measures, Rose said. Warrenton’s growth will also expand the tax base, and the district has 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in existing bond debt coming off people’s tax bills in five years, Kujala said.

In about 35 bond campaigns he’s been involved in, Rose said about 80 to 85 percent passed. While price is an issue, most that fail are because of the lack of a clear vision supported by the community, he said.

“I would encourage laying out a master campus plan before you decide whether to go out for a bond,” Rose said, estimating the school board would likely decide in April or May on whether to go out for a bond.

Rose recommended the district apply for a matching grant of up to $4 million from the state, made available if voters pass a general obligation bond.

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