• February 19, 2020 Burns Times-Herald by Randy Parks

    Come this May, Harney County school District No. 3 will be asking voters to approve an $8 million bond for building improvements. At its meeting on Feb. 11, the school board approved Resolution 2020-01, to place the general obligation bond on the ballot. If passed, the bond would provide safe, secure, and accessible facilities, perform deferred maintenance and repairs to existing facilities, consolidate educational spaces with the focus on making existing facilities more efficient, and erect new buildings where needed.
    At the start of the meeting, Scott Marshall, with Straightline Architecture, explained the district began a long range assessment of the facilities in October 2018. During the process, a community group was organized to discuss the needs of both the district and the community. Based on the findings, it was determined facility improvements were needed in the district, and a bond committee was assembled to determine how best to approach the improvements. After eight months of work, an approach was finalized, with a total cost of $12 million.
    While the total price tag is $12 million, the district was awarded a $4 million grant through the Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching (OSCIM) Program. Marshall stated the OSCIM grants aren’t guaranteed to be offered each year by the state legislature, so if the matching funds aren’t approved, the grant will go somewhere else, and there may not be another opportunity to receive that funding.
    Marshall reviewed an assessment of each of the buildings and what the bond work would include.
    The Lincoln building was determined to be the most expensive to fix, and it was recommended the building be sold or “mothballed,” and the district offices and IT moved to Hines Middle school.
    Hines Middle School was determined to have empty classroom and secondary space, difficult access, doesn’t comply with current ADA standards, and has a backlog of deferred maintenance. The suggested course of action wold be to relocate sixth grade to Slater School, and the seventh and eighth grades to the high school campus. The gym, locker rooms, kitchen, and cafeteria would be maintained for student and community use, and classrooms would be used for the district offices, IT consolidation, and storage. The estimated budget is $300,000.
    The estimated budget for improvements at Slater is $2.5 million. They include an additional three classrooms and storage space, remodel the front entry into a secure entry, install security access controls at exterior doors, remodel kitchen spaces and expand the cafeteria, reconfigure the front of the school and parking lot for separated bus and parent drop-off locations, remodel the music room, and perform deferred maintenance throughout the facility.
    Burns High School was determined to be in the best condition, has the lowest replacement cost index, and is considered to be the center of town activity. The estimated budget for improvements at the high school is $7.6 million. The high school is currently at 62 percent capacity, with six classrooms not being used for instruction.
    The improvements would provide a new wing for seventh and eighth grade classrooms, re-populate six empty classrooms, remodel the front entry into a secure entry and reconfigure the front office for secure visitor check-in, remodel and expand kitchen space, remodel underutilized library space and re-purpose into a library and student digital resource space, remodel existing locker rooms, upgrade boiler and HVAC systems, improve music room and cafetorium acoustics, a new construction technology and maintenance shop building, new exterior restrooms, concessions, and storage, and a new middle school auxiliary gym. The suggested plan of action also call for the demolition of the old boiler shed and maintenance shops.
    An additional $1.6 million was figured into the overall budget amount for soft costs and inflation.
    Matt Donahue of D.A. Davidson then presented three financial scenarios to the board, for 20-year, 25-year, and 30-year bond repayment plans.
    He explained that the shorter the payback time period, the higher the cost of per thousand of assessed value. For instance, with a 20-year bond, residents would pay 77 cents per thousand of assessed value, plus the 57 cents already being assessed, for a total of approximately $1.35 per thousand on their property taxes. A 30-year bond would cost residents an additional $1.04 per thousand of assessed value on property taxes.
    (The 57 cents being assessed is from a 20-year, $2.7 million bond approved by voters in 2005.)
    To break those figures down, if a home has an assessed value of $150,000, the 20-year bond would cost the homeowner about $115 additional each year. 
    The board agreed the 20-year bond would save money in the long run, but would be more of a financial burden on taxpayers.
    After some discussion, the board voted to place the 30-year bond on the May ballot. 
    February 19, 2020 Burns Times-Herald Op-Ed by Randy Parks
    Benjamin Franklin is supposedly the one to utter the phrase, “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” Whether the attribution is correct or not, it’s a sentiment felt by all.
    While that phrase is pretty factual, I would like to respectfully add another item to the “certain” list, and that is aging. You’re getting older with every minute, as am I, and every other person, plant, and inanimate object on planet Earth. 
    We talk enough about our own aches, pains, and other trials of aging, but it’s also time to show concern for aging buildings. It’s no secret that the schools in Burns and Hines need some help. As every year passes, the aging structures need some tender-loving care. (I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day, so maybe that’s where that sentiment comes from.)
    On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Harney County School District No. 3 board of directors approved a motion to place an eight million dollar bond on the May ballot. The bond would pay for a lot of improvements in the district, and is definitely needed.
    I have to commend the board on the decision. It’s not an easy decision, asking the population for money, but sometimes it is necessary. The whole process began back in October 2018, and has been thoroughly researched and debated, so it’s not like a board member or administrator woke up one morning and said, “I think we need about eight million dollars for schools.” Maybe they did, but I doubt it.
    A key component in this proposal is a $4 million grant the district received from the state. What that means is the district can complete $12 million worth of improvements and have one-third paid for by the grant. Think about that for a second — If you were buying a house and could get one-third of it paid for, you wouldn’t let that opportunity pass you by, would you?
    The proposal calls for shutting down the Lincoln building as it is the least utilized, it’s aged, and it costs the most to keep it open. There would be re-location for sixth, seventh, and eight graders, new facilities built, and existing facilities upgraded for future generations.
    While no one wants to think about increased taxes, sometimes it is necessary. Let’s face it, this community can’t afford to build brand new buildings, and it can’t afford to watch the current facilities fall into disrepair either. The proposed bond would cost taxpayers about an additional 45 cents per thousand of assessed value on property taxes which isn’t an unreasonable amount for the  proposed improvements.
    The $4 million dollar grant I mentioned earlier is more or less a “take it or leave it” opportunity. If the district doesn’t use the grant, and a match is required, it will lose the funds. And it’s not certain another opportunity like this will arise in the near future. This is a golden opportunity for the district, students, teachers, the entire community.
    I would also suggest if you have questions, contact a board member or the district to get answers. Don’t rely on the word on the street.
    Another worthwhile quote attributed to Mr. Franklin: “To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”
    There’s an opportunity here for the community and it’s one worth taking advantage of.
    Comments? Email Randy Parks at rparks@btimesherald.com