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Bond redux – Silver Falls aims to put new bond measure on May ballot

By Stephen Floyd

The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) plans to put another facilities bond on the May Primary Election ballot, though the dollar amount and scope of the bond may not be set until February.

On Dec. 11, the SFSD Board unanimously passed a resolution authorizing a bond program for the May 21, 2024, election after having discussed the issue at length during a Nov. 27 meeting.

The deadline to file for the election is March 1, 2024, and the board hopes to finalize the bond proposal by its regular meeting Feb. 12, 2024.

The proposal is expected to be a scaled-down version of a $138 million facilities bond that voters rejected during the Nov. 7 election. The final results certified Dec. 4 showed Measure 24-486 failed by 55.76% of 7,902 total votes, with 50.6% voter turnout between voters in Marion and Clackamas counties.

The Nov. 7 bond would have addressed failing infrastructure at all 11 schools in the district, including $75 million to rebuild Silverton Middle School. 

The May bond is expected to focus on the middle school, as the board has identified this as the district’s most pressing infrastructure need. Board Vice Chair Aaron Koch said Nov. 27, though the school only serves students in Silverton, a failure of the building could be felt district-wide if students are reassigned to the outlying K-8 schools.

“If we shut down Silverton Middle School, it will inevitably affect every other school community in our district,” said Koch. “That’s a fact. And people need to understand that it’s a ripple effect, that it’s true. It’s not fear-mongering. It’s not trying to use emotion. It’s a down-right fact.”

The board could also target specific projects at additional schools, such as at Silverton High School where the building needs a new roof, HVAC system and security upgrades.

Superintendent Scott Drue said Dec. 11 the construction market has softened and the current projected cost to rebuild the middle school is $71 million. He said adding the high school would cost around $8 million more, while the board would need to decide what projects they want to see at other schools, if any, for further cost estimates.

Drue said he would have a more detailed report prepared for the board’s Jan. 8, 2024, meeting. 

Board Chair Jennifer Traeger said a May bond should depend as much as possible on the scope of work for the November bond so work is not being duplicated. She said the two-month approval window does not leave time for heavy revisions, and said there is still a need for staff to develop a plan to vacate Silverton Middle School if the building fails.

A contingency plan for decommissioning the middle school became a focus of the board after the November bond failed in light of the building’s excessive disrepair. Drue estimated it could take 16 months to develop such a plan.

After the failure of the Nov. 7 bond, a May re-do seemed less likely because the board was informed there would not be time to apply for additional state funding as had been available before. For Measure 24-486, SFSD qualified for a $4 million grant from the Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching Program, but the grant was contingent on the bond passing.

During the Nov. 27 meeting, Drue said the district had been informed they could use the information from the prior application to seek a grant for May. He said the available grant would also increase to $6 million. The board’s Dec. 11 resolution allowed the district to apply for the grant by a Dec. 16 deadline.

At the Nov. 27 meeting there were lengthy discussions about bond options and what the board could do to gather support from previous “no” voters.

Drue acknowledged the district overestimated its ability to persuade the public and was unable to satisfy concerns around plans for maintenance and public transparency. If SFSD hopes to address similar concerns for a May bond, he said, they will need to be deliberate about outreach due to the two-month window for approval.

“It’s one thing that our community demands of us is to get their input,” Drue emphasized.

Traeger said the board could depend on the public input gathered for the November bond, which included a series of town hall meetings at all schools in the district last winter and spring. She said the Bond Advisory Committee which helped lead these meetings worked hard on a report to the board, and using their work would maintain that link to public outreach.

“We had a great amount of public input that went into the bond and I want to honor it,” said Traeger.

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