After voters overwhelmingly supported $46 million in Oregon School District referendums last Tuesday, district officials are looking to finalize two land deals later this month.
The construction referendum to purchase land and build a new elementary school, was brought to voters to prevent impending overcrowding at the elementary and intermediate levels, and it passed 7,675 to 4,208. A second question, to exceed revenue caps to operate the school, passed by a slightly slimmer margin, 7,416 to 4,456.
In it, the district identified fast-growing Fitchburg in the northern part of the district as a prime location for a new elementary school to handle part of an expected increase of at least 2,000 more students by 2030.
A middle school, which would be brought to voters in a second referendum in a few years, is the other part.
The district has been in negotiations in recent months to purchase land for the Fitchburg K-6 school around the U.S. Hwy. 14 Lacy Road interchange, district superintendent Brian Busler told the Observer, as well as land for a new middle school around the Hwy. 14/County Hwy. MM interchange. He said the goal is to have both land purchases finalized by the end of November or early December for a public special electors meeting next month in which residents can vote to approve or deny the purchase.
He said if the majority of those present vote against the land sale, the district would have to come up with another property to try to purchase with the referendum funds. If approved, then it’s on to planning for construction.
Of the $44.9 million included in the referendum, around $32 million is earmarked for the 125,000-square-foot elementary school in the new Terravessa development off County Hwy. MM in Fitchburg. That number includes all infrastructure costs, a road extension, utility improvement, fiber optics line and all necessary furniture and school equipment.
The district has retained its architect and general contractor from past referendum construction — Bray Architects and J.H. Findorff and Son, respectively — to work on the projects, with a goal to go to bid the project in two phases next year. Busler said the first bid package will be released in February and the second in June or July, with construction starting this spring.
“This will allow us to complete construction in time for the 2020-2021 school year,” Busler wrote in an email to the Observer Monday.
While this year’s referendum is still unofficial, the district is already making plans for another – likely around 2022 – to fund the proposed Grades 6-8 middle school so it can be ready for students in fall 2024.
If approved, that would set off a chain reaction to even out enrollment at schools. It would add a fifth-grade to the three current elementary schools, drop the sixth-graders from the Fitchburg elementary school, switch Rome Corners Intermediate from a 5-6 to K-5 school and add sixth-graders to Oregon Middle School.
The idea would be to spread out the rapidly growing student population among four elementary schools, and eventually five.
Busler said the district’s growth task force determined elementary schools should be no larger than 600 students, so the goal for the new school would be “a little larger” than Brooklyn and Prairie View elementaries, which “max out” at around 500. He said with a fourth elementary school in 2020, the schools would each have around 425 students.