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story.lead_photo.caption Blair Oaks High School in Wardsville Photo by Phillip Sitter / News Tribune.

The Board of Education for the Blair Oaks R-2 school district saw updated information Wednesday night on a possible new high school — with a tentative design featuring less square footage to be able to fit the proposed project's budget within the district's means.

No decisions were made at Wednesday night's work session, but the board at its January regular meeting next week will hear motions to approve April election ballot language for a no-tax increase bond issue to pay for the first phase of the project, and a 30-cent increase to the district's operating levy to be able to run a new high school.

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A 30-cent operating levy increase would put the district's total tax rate at $4.26 per $100 of assessed valuation. That would put the district's rate further above the current rates of the school districts in California and Eugene, but still below Jefferson City, Russellville, Ashland, Columbia, Harrisburg and Hallsville.

The operating levy increase would take effect in the 2019-20 school year. The earlier approval will mean significantly less stress on the district's operating fund balance in the coming years, according to financial projections shown to the board by Superintendent Jim Jones.

The projections Jones showed calculated an approval of a 30-cent operating levy this April that would leave the district with an approximately 17 percent operating fund balance in the 2026-27 school year — 20 percent is optimal, he said, and projections he showed of the operating levy increase being approved later left the district with as low as a 12 or 13 percent operating fund balance in 2026-27.

An operating fund balance is how much money a school district keeps on hand in a given year — calculated as a percent of its budget — to get through any unforeseen expenses not in the budget.

The first phase of a new high school is estimated to cost $14 million and would be projected to open in August 2021, if voters approve the project this April — and $14 million is the limit of the district's bonding capacity.

Representatives of the Architects Alliance once again Wednesday presented design information to the board — this time after narrowing down the placement of furniture in an effort to weed out any unnecessary inches or feet in the design.

"We literally went through every single room," Principal Architect Cary Gampher said, adding "it helped us on the total square footage."

Project Manager Leslie Backstrom said "this plan, compressed, is almost 96,000 square feet," whereas the plans the board saw last month were estimated to be at 102,000 square feet for the completely finished high school — which would be projected to be finished in August 2025.

Gampher said they were able to shave at least 5 feet off of the width of the auditorium. He added as an example of a visualization, 1,000 square feet more or less translates into the size of a high school science lab classroom.

Backstrom said the first phase of the proposed high school last month was shown to be 81,000, but it's now just under 76,000 — an estimated cost of $15.5 million.

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The cost would be lowered to approximately $14.5 million by designating approximately 6,300 square feet of space for proposed band, choir and art rooms as an alternate part of a bid — meaning they would only be built in the first phase if funds were available.

Jones said if any money proved to be available, he would propose to add more classrooms on the building's east side in the first phase, so as to not need any temporary classrooms on the mezzanine level of the gym, where additional bleachers would go later.

The commons area adjacent to the school's gym, auditorium, kitchen and concessions stand in the design shown Wednesday was projected to be able to seat 250 people at a time at round tables. Jones said Blair Oaks High School currently serves lunch to about 120 students per period.

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