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Othello School District voters to consider capital projects bond

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | January 5, 2022 1:05 AM

OTHELLO — Ballots will be mailed to Othello School District voters this month and will include a proposal for a $51 million capital projects bond.

Ballots should be mailed about Jan. 24. and must be returned by Feb. 8. Because it’s a revenue measure, the bond must receive approval from 60% of the participating voters to pass.

District officials will sponsor a series of community forums to answer questions about the proposal. Forums are scheduled from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. every Thursday night during January and the first week of February. Forums will be at the Wahitis Elementary School gym, 905 S. 14th Ave., on Jan. 6 and Feb. 2; the McFarland Middle School cafeteria, 790 S. 10th Ave., on Jan. 13 and 27; and the Othello High School cafeteria, 340 S. Seventh Ave., on Jan. 20.

If the bond is approved, the money would be used to expand classroom space at OHS and add a third gym. Classrooms would be added at MMS, and gyms would be added at Lutacaga, Hiawatha and Scootney Springs elementary schools. The bond also would pay for a new food services warehouse.

If the bond is approved, property owners would pay about $1.14 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The owner of property worth $200,000 could pay $228 per year in property taxes, and the owner of property worth $300,000 could pay $342 per year in property taxes.

School district property owners now pay $3.17 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That includes the district’s existing educational programs and operations levy and the 2007 construction bond. The 2007 bond will be paid off in 2028.

Director of maintenance and capital projects Gregg Fultz said Monday the projects haven’t been designed yet. As a result, details are still to be determined.

The project at OHS would remodel or demolish the 600 wing. Fultz said district officials tentatively decided to demolish it, but it could be remodeled if that’s more cost-effective. The last remodeling project, about 10 years ago, included the option for demolishing sections of some buildings, but instead the buildings were remodeled, Fultz said.

Either way, 10 classrooms would be replaced at OHS and 11 more added. Three of the new classrooms would be built as science classrooms.

The 600 wing was built about 40 years ago, Fultz said, and while it’s in good repair, it’s outdated. In addition, district superintendent Pete Perez said the OHS student body is growing and the high school needs more space.

The high school also would get a third gym, one big enough to accommodate up to 1,500 people. That would accommodate the entire student body, something that’s not possible in the current gyms, Fultz said.

The new gym’s location is still to be determined. The concept drawings on the district’s website show it north of the auxiliary gym, Fultz said, but that might not be the final location.

If the bond is passed, McFarland Middle School would be expanded, as well. Currently, kindergarten through sixth grade students attend Othello’s four grade schools. In the new configuration, sixth-graders would attend MMS, which would become sixth through eighth grade.

The size of the expansion at MMS, and its location, is still to be determined.

“The exact number of classrooms isn’t decided yet,” Fultz said.

Three of the district’s four elementary schools would get a new gym if the bond passes.

Fultz said Scootney Springs and Hiawatha elementary schools have multipurpose rooms rather than gyms, and the rooms do double duty as the school lunchroom. Lutacaga Elementary School has a gym, but it’s also used as a lunchroom. Perez said that limits the ability to use any of the multipurpose room spaces for additional instruction.

The new food service warehouse would be built on district-owned property, but its location is still to be determined. Fultz said one option is the district’s transportation center, 2040 S. Broadway Ave.

The new warehouse would have cold storage, as well as storage for dry ingredients. The current food storage warehouse at OHS is too small, Fultz said.

Perez said incoming kindergarten classes have been slightly smaller than their predecessors the last couple years. But school officials don’t know yet if the COVID-19 pandemic, and the school closings and hybrid schedules that were part of it, had an impact on enrollment.

Othello is still growing as a town, so enrollment could start increasing again, he said.

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