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Blair Oaks eyeing new high school

Blair Oaks eyeing new high school

November 18th, 2017 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

A school bus is parked near a plot of land visible from the Blair Oaks Middle School.

Photo by Emil Lippe /News Tribune.

The Blair Oaks R-2 school district is asking itself what it would take to build a new high school and when.

Architects Alliance Principal Architect Cary Gampher presented options to the district's Board of Education on Tuesday, according to Superintendent Jim Jones.

Jones said the district's current bonding capacity is about $12.5 million.

It would cost about that much to replicate Blair Oaks' current high school, but the design additions of desired spaces like a 2,000-seat gym and an auditorium for a school of 600 students would bring the total to about $17 million.

Jones said Gampher made other presentations in October 2015 and April 2016; "it's not like we don't have some basic, preliminary diagrams."

At the board's regular meeting Tuesday, Gampher again showed sketches of three different design options for a new high school, located across Falcon Lane to the northeast of the district's current buildings, in what's currently an empty field.

The first option is one large, rectangular building with the 2,000-seat gym at its core. Option two is three or four smaller buildings, connected by a corridor, with the auditorium placed closest to Falcon Lane. The third option is also one large building, but less rectangular.

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All three options are about 113,000 square feet, built for 600 students.

Given any of three options exceed the district's current bonding capacity by about $5 million, Jones said the board is asking "What can we build at this point of that $17 million preliminary plan?"

In other words, the district is examining if or how it might be able to phase in work on such a project — build the bulk of it and finish the rest within a few years following without a further tax increase.

The district's bonding capacity will grow naturally every year and eventually reach $17 million without a tax increase by about 2022, but so too will the inflation of construction costs grow at the same time. Gampher said Tuesday a lot of districts have seen up to 4.5 percent cost inflation in recent years.

"If we can't wait that long, what are our options?" Jones reiterated of the central question in front of the board, trying to balance acting at the opportune time with the district's financial capabilities.

"The restrictions that are there because of our bonding capacity are real," and Jones added "April of 2018 may ultimately not be the year we choose to move forward" on a new high school project and its place on a ballot to request funding from local taxpayers.

Voters could only choose to raise the district's bonding capacity another by cents, at most, no matter how eager some people might be to get construction of a new high school going.

"I'm not saying that we will or won't move forward with an April (bond) issue," but if nothing else, Jones said the district and board will have more data to share on the idea of a new high school.

Any April 2018 ballot issue must be certified by Jan. 23.

The district hasn't had a bond issue since 2007.