By Kristine Thomas
After months of listening to public input, reading reports by specialists about the condition of the Eugene Field School building and weighing the pros and cons of what they consider fiscally prudent plans, the Silver Falls School District board finally made a decision.
On Aug. 11, the board members voted 5-1 to place a $24.9 million bond on the Nov. 4 ballot. Board member Tom Buchholz cast the dissenting vote. Board member David Beeson was absent due to family obligations.
The bond is designed to cover:
• Construction of additional classrooms and a cafeteria at Robert Frost School to accommodate use by Eugene Field School kindergarten through third-grade students.
• Construction of a covered play area at Mark Twain School to accommodate students in fourth and fifth grades.
• Reconstruction of the newer portion of the Schlador Street Campus to serve students in sixth through eighth grades and to house Community Roots Charter School
• Removal of the original two-story Schlador Street school building that has been decommissioned for school use by the school board
• Safety, security and technology upgrades for all district elementary schools
If approved, the bond would fund construction projects that would allow the district to discontinue the use of the current Eugene Field building. The board has called for the closing of Eugene Field by the 2016 school year.
“It’s time to discontinue the use of Eugene Field,” board chairman Tim Roth said. “Making Schlador a junior high is the wisest use because the building is better suited as a junior high.”
Board members emphasized the plan does not call for creating one middle school.
Silver Falls Superintendent Andy Bellando said the board has spent the past year talking with community members and staff about facilities and what needed to be done.
In May 2013, a bond measure for $36.9 million failed to win voter approval. That plan would have funded deferred maintenance and facility upgrade projects at each of the district’s elementary schools and funded the reconstruction of the Schlador Street campus into a middle school for town students with two wings – one for fifth and sixth graders and one for seventh and eighth graders. The completion of the Schlador Street would have resulted in the closure of Eugene Field.
After the bond failed, the school board and the district staff held public meetings, formed a Eugene Field Task Force, conducted surveys and had town hall meetings to hear from voters about what they did and didn’t like about the proposal and what they believed needed to be done for the district’s facilities.
“We now have a better understanding of what we need to serve students while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Bellando said. “Many community members have asked us to consider a much simpler and more focused bond measure that makes Eugene Field School a top priority.”
According to the district’s figures, in 2015, property owners in Silverton are expected to pay $2.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value on existing bonds that funded the completion of Silverton High School. If the new measure passes in November, the combined rate for both existing and new bonds is estimated to be $3 or less per $1,000.
Bellando said if the bond passes, it will make the district eligible for other state grants that could be used to make other district-wide improvements.
While district staff members have applied for nearly $1.5 million in grant funding and are working to sell surplus property as an additional source of revenue, Bellando said that these efforts are not enough to address the needs of Silverton’s aging school facilities.
“This bond measure is an important issue for our students and community. We are encouraging citizens to be informed and ask questions during the next several months,” Bellando said. “Over the next few weeks, we will also be providing detailed information and updates on the district website for those who want to learn more.”
Before the voted on the resolution to place a bond on the ballot, the school board received comments from the audience. Gene Pfeifer told the board it was on the “wrong path” by asking voters to approve a bond measure.
“You could easily fix the problems at Eugene Field and make it like a new school,” he said. “You don’t want to listen to that.”
Dana Smith, a structural engineer who has served on the school board stressed the importance of the board members talking to people about the bond measure and why it is needed, adding they have read the documents and know the information and the facts.
When people are “sprouting misinformation,” Smith said, or stating their opinions as facts, it’s the board’s responsibility to tell the public the correct information.
Silverton High School teacher and football coach John Mannion applauded the board for its efforts and for going above and beyond to get community input.
“The board has made a thoughtful decision and I really believe this needs to happen,” he said. “When we moved to Silverton five years ago, we were told this is a great place to raise kids and people cared about their community. I am putting my faith in the community they will make the right decision and show this is a great place to raise kids.”
After the meeting, people gathered outside to discuss the next steps.
Eugene Field School teachers Jennifer Wiken and Lori Pittenger both spoke positively about the board decision.
“Relief,” Wiken said. “It’s a huge relief. Hopefully it passes.”
“We’re both in the modulars for a reason,” Pittenger said. “We don’t want to be in the building.”
Jessica Veith spoke during the meeting about her passion for the project.
“If I listed everything that was wrong with Eugene Field, I would go over my five minutes of time to talk,” she said during the board meeting. “I have researched its problems from electrical and plumbing to seismic.”
She encouraged anyone who has doubts about why the bond is needed to visit the school and see first hand the conditions students learn in and teachers work in.
“How can we go wrong investing in a school,” she said.
– Molly Gunther contributed to this story.