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65 percent back Oak Harbor High School bond

It’s high fives between school supporters after seeing the latest results of the high school bond election.

The $54 million bond to renovate Oak Harbor High School is heading for overwhelming approval.

As of an updated count Thursday afternoon, results show the bond passing with a 65.44 percent margin with 4,418 voters approving it and only 2,333 rejecting it. The bond needed a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

“It would appear to me, based on previous elections, that the lead is safe,” said Oak Harbor School District Superintendent Rick Schulte. “It’s pretty safe to call this a victory.”

The updated results increased the approval margin for the bond. The initial count election night, May 16, showed 62.34 percent of the voters approving the proposal. That increased to over 65 percent on Thursday.

The Island County Auditor’s Office will release periodic updates until the election is certified on May 26. But the success of the measure is assured. There are only approximately 800 ballots left to count and those are split between elections in Oak Harbor and Stanwood, where three school-related proposals failed at the polls.

In addition to the bond money, Oak Harbor School District is expecting to receive $19.33 million in matching money from the state.

That money will pay for a project that includes expanding Oak Harbor High School by approximately 38,000 square feet and replacing the school’s ancient infrastructure. The expansion would provide between 14 and 20 additional classrooms and wider hallways.

Rick Almberg, chair of Citizens for Better Schools, said the positive result reflects widespread community support that came out in the weeks leading up to the May 16 election. That support came from local businesses, community groups and military personnel.

“Without a strong cross section of support through this community, we wouldn’t have achieved this result,” Almberg said.

Individual people who normally keep a low profile during bond elections were active in promoting the latest bond, Almberg said. Those people spoke out in the newspaper and promoted the proposal before local groups and organizations.

Volunteers were working hard through the day of election, waving signs at busy intersections encouraging voters to go to the polls.

Almberg said the community’s attitude toward the local school district has changed for the better, which made it easier to promote a successful bond campaign. Three years ago, two proposals to renovate the high school failed at the polls.

After fence mending and a host of community meetings, the school district found success last November when a bond to build a new athletic stadium and fields was approved by voters, thanks in part to campaign leadership by the Rotary Club. That positive community support appeared to gain momentum as the May 16 election approached.

With the approval of the bond, school officials are busy taking the next steps in the process of renovating the high school. Schulte said the district will start looking for an architect to design the project and for a bond underwriter to help sell the bonds. He said he wants the bonds sold as soon as possible because interest rates are increasing.

“We’re going to hit the ground running on this. We’re fully prepared,” Schulte said.

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