New middle school more than we need

October 25, 2007 11:00 pm

To the editor:

Currently, there are 450 students in the three middle school grades, according to Superintendent Don Ulrey. State projections show the county's middle school age population will decline 20 percent by 2015, to around 360 students, yet the school board is proposing a bond to build a school for 625 students.

It makes no financial sense to borrow, build, operate and maintain a building so much larger than we need — now or in the future — at a total cost to taxpayers of $40 million.

The school board required Poe Architects to estimate the cost of remodeling the current middle school complex for 550-625 students — far above the actual or projected student population. This distortion drove the remodel estimates up significantly as did the excessive campus amenities the board required be included.

Poe testified that his analysis would be far different for a student population of 450 or less. Stripping away these excesses leaves the remodel of the existing Middle School buildings far and away the lowest cost option for improving the Middle School. Not only is it the least cost option, the remodeled buildings would be more energy efficient, built of higher quality materials, and centrally located than the proposed new school and just as safe for all students.

The bond is not budgeted for extraordinary site costs, including extending streets, or for the huge costs involved in building in a FEMA flood plain, as all proposed sites do. The bond drastically under funds the furniture, fixtures and equipment that a new school will require. There are also serious health and safety issues identified at each elementary school that remain unfunded.

This money has to come from somewhere. Will it be a smaller, lesser quality school than the bond promises? Will it be higher class sizes? Teacher pay freezes? All of the above?

Declining enrollment is the real crisis facing the school system. The board needs a pragmatic plan to deal with declining enrollment and district-wide facilities needs. We should not compound these problems by making a huge financial mistake.

Pamela Van Duyn

Baker City