by: Jim Cornelius, News Editor, The Nugget News
Published 4/20/16; visit the Nugget News website here
When the Sisters School District sought public input before seeking a $10.7 million bond issue, one of the major points of concern was oversight of bond-funded construction projects.
That is, in large part, a reaction to the failure of the roof at Sisters High School – which will be repaired but not replaced with bond funds.
“That was a major community concern,” school board member Amanda Clark.
Roof repair is only one among several projects that will require oversight. The bond also calls for $2.7 million worth of safety and security updates. These include remodeling entryways for visibility; securing access points; installing automated access controls, locks and security cameras.
The district also plans to spend $3.4 million on rehabilitating Reed Stadium and its track, bringing it into ADA compliance, and building tennis courts and a new ball field.
Asked how the new athletic facilities fall on the need/want continuum, Superintendent Curt School told The Nugget that they would be community assets.
“Our schools are parks facilities in many ways,” he said.
Proponents of the bond measure note that Sisters is competing with other regional districts for enrollment and facilities – including athletic fields and courts – which are important to attracting students, and also for staging revenue-producing events.
Scholl also notes that the schools need to develop the property where the new ball field is to be located or risk losing irrigation rights.
Critics fault the bond for including new athletic facilities – which they perceive as more of a “want” than a “need” – when taxpayers are being asked to pay for deferred maintenance.
All of the repairs, remodels and new construction will be supervised and placed under community oversight, Clark told The Nugget.
“We will have a dedicated project manager … and we will have a community oversight committee,” she said. “Our goal is to be as transparent as possible.”
The position of capital project manager will be a temporary paid position. The project manager will have direct accountability for oversight of projects. The citizen’s oversight committee will be by appointment with an open application process searching for volunteers with relevant expertise to consult and advise on
One aspect of the process that has been the subject of some confusion is that no bids can be solicited until the bonds are approved by voters. The district’s allocation of bond funds are based on “good-faith estimates,” not bids. Prices could go up or down between now and the time the projects are actually put out to bid.
“The scope of what you’ll be able to accomplish (with bond funds) is dependent upon the market at that time,” said Scholl.
School construction projects are also subject to state and federal rules regarding public contracting.
The district will have to prioritize projects and if costs outstrip the funds available through the bond issue, some projects may have to be deferred.
“Obviously safety and security are one of the top priorities,” Clark noted.
Clark also emphasized that there are two aspects to school budgeting. The operational side – which is supported by local option tax funds – is the portion of the budget that funds classroom activity and programs. The bond is to fund the facilities side of the equation – which local option dollars cannot be used for.
“I think it’s very important for the community to understand that the local option is for operational costs,” Clark said. “That’s for teachers in the classroom. This (the bond) is for infrastructure costs.”