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Bond issues: SFSD floats $73 million bond for May ballot

By Stephen Floyd

The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) is discussing a possible $73 million facilities bond for the May 21 election to rebuild Silverton Middle School (SMS) and improve Silverton High School (SHS).

During the district board’s Jan. 18 meeting, officials said this proposal would keep property tax rates on par with current rates for a construction bond for Phase II of SHS that expires in 2027.

No formal decision on the bond was made that night and the board planned to continue discussing the options during a Jan. 29 workshop.

The board plans to vote on a final bond proposal for the May ballot on Feb. 12.

SFSD started working toward a May bond after the failure of a $138 million facilities bond during last year’s November election.

Measure 24-486 would have funded facility improvements at all 11 schools in the district, including replacement of SMS at an estimated cost of $75 million. The measure was voted down by 55.76% of 7,902 total voters, with 50.6% voter turnout between Marion and Clackamas counties.

Board members said replacing SMS remains a significant priority due to concerns over structural safety and the high costs of ongoing maintenance. During the Jan. 18 meeting Board Vice Chair Aaron Koch reiterated that the aging middle school remains “the biggest problem we have in our district.”

While SMS replacement was estimated at $75 million in the 2023 bond proposal, more recent estimates came in at around $71 million as the construction market has cooled post-pandemic. Officials also estimated it would cost around $8 million for critical updates at the high school, such as roof, HVAC and security improvements, for a total of $79 million in proposed projects.

Part of this funding would come from a $6 million state grant through the Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching Program, bringing the local bond total to $73 million for proposed projects. The district similarly qualified for a $4 million grant for last year’s bond, but passage of the bond was a condition to receive the grant.

Director of Finance & Operations Steve Nielsen said, if a $73 million bond was approved for a 28-year term, the impact on property taxes would be roughly $1.96 per $1,000 of assessed value. This is the same rate as the Phase II construction bond for the high school, which will be paid off in June of 2027, and payments for the proposed bond would essentially replace the existing rate.

To pass a bond in May the board would need to convince at least 454 people who voted against the last bond to support this new effort, assuming turnout was the same. Last year many bond opponents expressed concerns about the high cost of the bond and about whether or not the district had taken precautions to prevent cost overruns and ensure transparency.

Board members said they hope a bond proposal that essentially keeps property tax rates unchanged will help address such concerns. Koch has also said, though the middle school directly serves students in the Silverton city limits, the entire district would be impacted if students were displaced by failure of those facilities.

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