The Payette School District’s March 2019 construction bond measure failed with not even 50% of voters supporting the $30.9 million measure.
Since then, the Payette School District has worked to address facility needs without additional supplemental levies. But at the Dec. 9 Bard of Trustees meeting, the topic of seeking a ballot measure came back up for ongoing discussion.
Items on the district’s to-do list at Payette High include:
• Making roof repairs;
• Updating security cameras;
• Replacing the original dome heaters, for which parts are no longer available; and
• Repaving the parking lots.
Board member Andy Kirkendall says the situation may not be dire, but he doesn’t want to keep putting Band-Aids on everything.
“I want to keep communication open, I want the thought process to be going,” said Kirkendall. “I just don’t want to be throwing money away. We have to make sure whatever we put into our schools, it needs to be something that lasts.”
As far as keeping those using the dome warm, Rynearson noted doing so means heating the space above the gym floor to 100 degrees fahrenheit. The dome’s heating units are the same ones installed in 1972.
Board member Candita Strong said the Payette High parking lot is in such condition that repaving and replacing storm drains is necessary.
“I asked my brother because he’s in construction and he said … ‘Anytime you start something like that, it’s basically a start-over,’” said Strong.
She noted she gets requests for repairs frequently from teachers.
“I think as a board we know we have to do something, but it’s really making sure everybody else in the community knows that … it’s because our kids are in the school,” Strong said.
As Superintendent Robin Gilbert discussed with the newspaper on Dec. 20, the conversation about whether to seek bond money again is one that will remain on the agenda for the time being.
“It’s been taking place pretty much every month at their board meetings,” said Gilbert. “The finance committee has met regularly since [March] on budgets and where to spend money and what projects to approve. The district also had a work meeting, bringing our architects back in … Our needs are beyond the plant facility money.”
Roof repair bids vary from repairs at around $53,000 to replacing the roof for upwards of $324,000 for replacement with a 20-year warranty. Options for replacing the dome’s heating include spending $192,000 to buy new units to replace the old or renting heaters for upwards of $5,000 annually. Gilbert says the cost of replacing the parking lot could top $1.5 million.
Gilbert notes many modern heating/air conditioning units are roof-mounted and thus incompatible with the dome’s structure.
“You have to have engineers redesign them for below [and] you have to put in all the duct work,” noted Gilbert.
And it’s not just sports game or physical education classes in the dome; Other classes use the floor space, according to Gilbert.
“Lots of classes in there; Health, dance and [so on],” Gilbert said.
Safety and security being a top priority, Gilbert noted the district is working on improvements but replacing security cameras is subject to any repairs that come up.
“It depends on which heater or roof leaks first or what explodes next,” Gilbert said, with a laugh.
Regardless, she says safety is no laughing matter.
“We will do everything in our power to keep our kids safe, but it does take more people and more time and more effort to do it.”
Gilbert notes this is evident as it takes multiple people to check entrances to the building as the school does lockdown drills and hall checks.
Gilbert also acknowledged Payette High’s current campus is past its intended lifespan. The building wasn’t new when the Pirates moved in, as it was first built as a middle school in 1962.
“We’ve never built a new high school,” according to Gilbert. “That was one of the things, when we were running the bond … We realized that we’ve always just moved into existing facilities or updated them.”
Regarding repairs, Gilbert said the conversation has been about what makes sense to do as the building needs to be replaced.
“It doesn’t make sense, if you need to replace the building” to make long-term repairs, according to Gilbert. “Our patches are getting more expensive. We feel like we need to go back to the community and ask for [a] bond, but we’re not sure our community is ready for that. So we’re looking for, what are the plans, what are our next steps and how to move forward.”
Despite the needs for repairs at district schools, Chairman Adam Rynearson pointed out that asking voters for more money can potentially divide the community.
“As we found out this last year, a bond … can be something that pulls a community apart,” said Rynearson. “In families you have differing opinions … I don’t wanna force it on them.”
Gilbert said that while it feels that way, the conversation can remain civil.
“You have to argue for your case and you have to argue against … I don’t think it is polarizing as in there’s no agreement that the schools need to do things. It’s just how to do them, and so it just brings all that to the surface.”
On that note, Gilbert urges residents to get all the facts whenever the next bond measure may hit the ballot.
“Our trustees are struggling with the decisions of how to spend [our] money wisely they’re entrusted with,” she said. “The public doesn’t get to see that struggle unless they’re at that board meetings and hear those discussions.”
She points out that while the district has been able to invest in a new bus and new welding equipment, it’s because the money for such was required by law to be spent on those.
“We can buy a bus, but I can’t put that into teachers’ salaries and I can’t put that into a new high school and I can’t patch a roof with it,” she said.
According to Gilbert, no timetable has been set for pursuing a new measure at this time.