News

Can we have $45 million?

The Oak Harbor School Board decided at its regular meeting Monday night on a dollar figure for which to ask the taxpayers in a high school remodel/rebuild bond measure that is scheduled to go to the polls in March 2003.

Receiving advice from the district’s construction manager, Gary Goltz, the board settled on $45 million, which, when added to projected state matching funds, would pay for the approximately 50-percent new, 50-percent remodeled $56 million facility.

The plan would increase learning space at the high school, as well as provide new sports facilities and a performing arts center. The design and size of the resulting new school is projected to provide adequate high school facilities to last about 30 years.

“This gives us a first-rate, 50-percent new, 50-percent remodeled high school,” Goltz told the board. “This gives us a first-rate sports facility.”

The original cost estimate of the high school as planned had come in at about $58 million, but a recent minor redesign by architects resulted in the total cost coming in at a $2 million below the original design. The latest design allows for school bus access to the back of the site and relocating a new portion of the building to the west side of the existing gymnasium complex, according to Goltz’s report.

After some discussion that involved the need to remodel or rebuild the district’s maintenance and grounds offices and facilities, as well as updating Memorial Stadium, the board decided to put those projects on the back burner for now, perhaps incorporating them into a five-year capital projects plan.

Kathy Chalfant, board member, stressed her thoughts that trying to accomplish too many projects at once might jeopardize the goal of garnering voter support for the high school bond measure.

One community member, during the public comment period, suggested that the board cautiously approach taking a high school bond measure to the voters this school year. Scott Hornung told the board of some research he had completed regarding how a low general fund balance can affect a district’s bond rating.

Hornung said Oak Harbor School District, like many school districts throughout the state, is facing a lower-than-preferred ending general fund balance due to state budget shortfalls and the possible delay of receiving federal Impact Aid payments. The general fund balance acts as a cushion so that the district can pay its payroll and bills if there is a delay in state or federal aid payments. A low fund balance might indicate a riskier financial position, prompting a higher bond interest rate than if the balance were at a more secure level.

“I raise the issue now so the analysis can be done now before we get to far into the bond,” Hornung said.

The board acknowledged Hornung’s comments, and Rick Schulte, superintendent of schools, said he had already talked with the district’s bond underwriter and invited him to come to the next board meeting later this month. The underwriter, Schulte said, will be able to answer Hornung’s question.

Additionally, there is a new safety feature for school district bonds, Schulte said, which might help secure a good bond interest rate. The state now provides insurance for the bonds, in case a financial crisis occurs.

“These are extremely secure and safe bonds,” Schulte said.

Bond underwriters also examine a school district’s total indebtedness when considering approval of a bond and determining an interest rate. As of this year Oak Harbor School District has a maximum-allowed indebtedness of $90 million. With the current bonds, the addition of a new $45 million bond would result in a total bond indebtedness that “would still be way, way below that,” Schulte said.

Overall, the district is looking for creative ways to help pay for the new high school facilities, including fund-raisers and help from local organizations. Additionally, upon bond approval, the district can apply for a grant of up to $2 million because the new school would include a performing arts center that would be shared by the district and the community, Schulte said.

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