New board approves facilities bond effort

Five members of the Emmett Independent School District Board receive the oath of office at the Annual Meeting on Jan. 8.

The new Emmett School Board authorized superintendent Craig Woods to move forward with preparing a facilities bond request of up to $64,625,000 at its first meeting of 2020. At the Jan. 8 meeting, five new trustees were sworn in to the six-person board which directs the operations of the Emmett Independent School District. They immediately went to work tackling issues that have been in development since at least 2017.

Prominent among the actions taken at the Annual Meeting of the District, was the motion to move forward with a bond issue that would fund not only a new high school but major renovations on at least four other buildings. Wednesday’s vote authorized the superintendent to continue preparing a bond package to be presented to voters on the May 19 primary election ballot.

The bond, if passed, will include the building of a new high school as well as upgrading multiple buildings in the district.

The price breakdown of these facilities is as follows:

  • New High School — 150,000 sq. foot ($45 million)
  • CTE Shell — 20,000 sq. foot ($3 million)
  • Upgrade Domes ($3 million)
  • Upgrade Butte View and Ola, add a gym at Butte View ($4.75 million)
  • Upgrade Middle School ($3 million)
  • Contingency Fund ($5.875 million)

The plans are the collective work of a citizens facilities assessment committee, the concentrated efforts of the previous board last fall, and research and data gathered by superintendent Woods. A $20.4 million bond issue vote in 2018 was targeted to do major repairs at the Middle School and some repairs at other facilities. That vote failed with opponents citing concerns of maintenance accountability on one hand and not sufficiently addressing the real needs of the district on the other hand.

The new plan incorporates a broad approach intended to bring Emmett Schools up to date, not only with technology and safety upgrades, but with additional space to ease the overcrowding already existing in some of the buildings. A growing student population is also incorporated into the plans to make room for that growth.

Sufficiently addressing needs and providing room for market adjustments are included in the proposal approved by the new board last week. The proposal is nearly $11 million more than a proposal that was tabled by the previous board in December. This proposal includes increased funding for renovations to the current High School domes which will be converted to the new Middle School. It also increases remodel funding for the existing Middle School as it may be converted into the home for Black Canyon High School and District offices. The current Butte View complex is projected to be renovated and returned to use as a third elementary school in the city.

The plan also includes the funds to construct Continuing Technical Education facilities along with the new high school. Those facilities would then be leased to Payette River Regional Technical Academy (P2RTA) – lease money that would be dedicated to bond repayment.

The largest amount of the increased bond request, $5,875,000, comes from a 10 percent contingency fund suggested by superintendent Woods.

“The 10% contingency is to mitigate a circumstance of having to come back to the taxpayers and ask for additional money to complete an unfinished project,” said new Board chair Houston White. “The proposal by the superintendent is to repay that 10% contingency to the bond if not needed; a very fiscally responsible move.”

When the current Emmett High was completed forty-years ago the original bond was not sufficient to complete the project and required a second bond vote a year later.

While the proposed bond would be the largest ever placed before Gem County voters, it is not beyond the bonding capacity of the District.

Currently the Emmett School District has no existing bond debt, having paid off the last facilities bond passed 20 years ago to build Carberry and Shadow Butte elementary schools. By Idaho code the District has an official legal bonding capacity of $87 million – roughly five percent of the total appraised market value of property within the District.

The exact cost of the 20-year bond to individual property owners can only be projected at this time. Using the current property appraisals and the State Bond Equalization projection, Woods is preparing more precise calculations.

“We will be using a .5 percent increase in True Interest Costs which means I will be presenting the numbers using 3.05% instead of the 2.55% that is the current rate,” explained Woods in an email to the Messenger Index. “Those numbers will be as follows. $2.74 per $1,000 dollars or $274 annually on $100,000. Which is monthly $22.83 and daily .75 cents per day.”

If passed at that rate, the total tax levy proportion would compare favorably with surrounding school districts. ESD would rank in the lower third of district tax rates and about half the rate currently be born by taxpayers in several area school districts.

Woods points out that no effort is being made to maximize the bonding capacity but also not to underfund the solutions chosen to meet the District’s facility needs.

“We have to get ahead of this thing (growth) or we will be playing catch up for years,” said Woods.

“I see the growth coming and the need for this,” White said. “Think of what teachers are already doing in subpar conditions, think of how our education system could advance with a new building and an opportunity like this.”

And it’s not only growth the board is worried about. The manner in which current facilities are limiting the student success and even income for the town was part of the Wednesday evening discussion.

“Track districts had to be held somewhere else two years ago” said Wade Carter, Emmett High School principal. “Everybody lost money due to the condition of our facilities . . . the school, the town, businesses.”

It was later mentioned that a track athlete has outgrown the current space, showing that some of the facilities are limiting to the athletes and what they can do.

“Just enough is not good enough for the community,” said White.

White pointed out that there is a lot of fine tuning yet to be done with the bond proposal before it gets to the voters in May.

“The exact breakup of this bond has yet to be determined,” White said “It will be a topic of discussion for the board as we move forward based on inputs from many community members and data provided by architectural, financial and construction management firms.”

The search for the right architect and construction company is underway. The board hopes to have a general concept of the proposed 150,000 sq. foot High School complex to reveal by February.

Other Board Business

Sworn in to begin new terms on the Board of Trustees were incumbent Ronnie Weekes and newcomers Houston White, Michael Garner, Michael Kimball and Ross Walker. Weekes was originally appointed to the board in February 2019 and along with Jody Harris, who was elected in 2017, are the only returnees from the Board which concluded 2019.

The Board elected officers at the meeting and voted to change its regular meeting time.

New officers for 2020 are: Board Chair — Houston (Hoss) White; Vice-Chair — Michael Garner; Bill List Reviewer — Martin (Ross) Walker; PRRTA Board Member — Houston (Hoss) White; High School Attendance Committee — Michael Kimball; Black Canyon and Emmett Middle School Attendance Committee — Ronnie Weekes.

Beginning February 10, the ESD Board will hold its monthly meetings at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month. All regular board meetings will be held at the Butte View complex in 2020 and a live-stream of those meetings will be available on the District website: emmettschools.org.

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