Battle Ground Public Schools showed off the work at its southernmost schools, ahead of a potential ballot measure that would fund the replacement of buildings, one of which is nearly 70 years old.
On May 25, the school district hosted a “Discover BGPS” tour for community members and school board members. The tour covered Prairie High School, Laurin Middle School and Glenwood Heights Primary School. All three buildings are located south of state Route 503’s intersection with the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, and are some of the oldest buildings in the district.
The tour highlighted a variety of programs across the district. Stops featured English language classes at the elementary level, social-emotional and individualized learning support at the middle grade levels, and more hands-on classes like ceramics, horticulture and computer programming at the high school.
With about 12,500 students, BGPS Superintendent Denny Waters said the district is the 25th largest public school district in Washington state. Waters said the district’s size sometimes gets overlooked given its proximity to the Evergreen School District and Vancouver Public Schools, which are two of the largest in the state.
Waters mentioned the district’s recently completed enrollment study, which projected a student population growth of about 2,000 kids. The study projected a larger amount of growth to take place in the southern area of the district, which would start with elementary school-aged students.
The buildings visited were all more than 40 years old. Prairie High School was built in 1979, Laurin Middle School was built in 1965 and Glenwood Heights was built in 1956.
The age of the buildings lead to challenges the schools face, both from an infrastructure standpoint and also regarding security. The schools have multiple buildings, which require perimeter fencing in order to create secure entries, Waters said.
“Obviously, when these buildings were built, it was a different time, a different place,” Waters said. “We weren’t worried about some of the things you see happening in other schools.”
Even with upgrades the buildings in the south of the district could make, they wouldn’t be able to reach the same level of security of the newer buildings in the district, Waters said. That has led to the discussion of placing a construction bond before district voters to fund new buildings.
“When you are going to build a building, it’s imperative that you have to pass a bond,” Waters said.
He said a bond to replace the aging schools in the district would be in the $240 million range. That would equate to about 72 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, more than the 44 cents per $1,000 in the current bond, which will sunset at the end of this year.
The last time the district successfully passed a construction bond was in 2005. The $55 million bond allowed for the construction of seven schools in the district, Waters said during an April school board meeting.
More recently, BGPS had three unsuccessful attempts at passing a bond. In November 2016, a bond measure received about 55.4% of the vote. In February of 2018, a $220 million bond garnered about 58.7% approval, coming within 200 votes short of passing the measure, which requires a 60% supermajority approval, Waters said.
Two months later, a second attempt at the bond garnered about 53.9% in favor of the measure.
With the current economic climate in perspective, Waters said the district has to measure when it will run a bond.
“One of the things we’re considering is the economic times that we’re in, and whether or not people can really afford it,” Waters said.
The tour highlighted both the current efforts of staff and the age of the buildings.
At Glenwood Heights, yearbooks from the oldest school in the district’s early days were on display during the tour. Principal Antonio Lopez touched on that history prior to tour groups of classrooms, some of which focused on language intervention and English language learning.
“We have third-generation kids coming” to Glenwood, Lopez said.
Laurin Middle School is the largest middle school in the district with about 750 students, Principal Eric Sakshaug said.
“This building is really, really nice. It’s just really, really old, quite frankly,” Sakshaug said.
Though the need is evident, running a bond at the wrong time can lead to another defeat, the superintendent said.
“There’s no doubt that we feel a need to run a bond because we would like to replace those buildings, but we also have to be careful of when we ask,” Waters said.
He noted the Ridgefield School District successfully ran a bond in 2017. The district’s next five attempts to pass another bond measure never received the required supermajority support.
“If we pass a bond to replace older buildings now, and then if we have growth, do we go back in five or six years and ask for another bond because we need a new school?” Waters asked.
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