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story.lead_photo.caption Blair Oaks High School in Wardsville

Voters will be able to decide in the April election whether the Blair Oaks R-2 School District will get a new high school, the board of education decided Tuesday after months of deliberation.

"I've been ready to go out and buy shovels for a long time," board President Peggy Luebbert said Tuesday.

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The board has been discussing the possibility of a new high school since at least November 2017, but postponed putting the issue on the April 2018 election ballot because the budget of the proposed project at the time surpassed the district's ability to pay for it.

The board has been discussing design options with representatives of The Architects Alliance for months, though, in efforts to lower the budget.

The bond issue the board unanimously approved Tuesday will ask voters to approve $14 million.

That $14 million is for the first of two phases of construction to build the new high school. It would pay for features including the school's auditorium, gym, library and cafeteria, as well as enough classrooms for grades nine through 12, though some may be temporary classrooms in the gym's planned mezzanine level.

"We don't know until we bid it out" exactly what $14 million will be enough to cover, Superintendent Jim Jones said, but he added the district is hopeful to include rooms for art, band and choir that could be bid out as alternates, meaning they would be built as part of phase one if funds are available.

The bond issue voters will decide in April will not involve any tax increases because the board in August voted to raise the district's debt service levy by 30 cents.

Voters will also have to decide, though, whether to authorize a 30-cent operating tax levy increase to pay to run a new high school, which the board also unanimously approved to be on the April ballot along with the bond issue.

The operating levy increase, effective in the 2019-20 school year, 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.

Though the new high school's first phase would not be anticipated to be open until August 2021, collecting the operating levy increase sooner would be easier on the district's operating fund balance later. An operating fund balance is how much money a school district keeps on hand to get through any unforeseen expenses not in the budget.

The second phase of the then-completed new high school would be anticipated to open in August 2025.

Ahead of the board's vote, Superintendent Jim Jones asked Architects Alliance's Principal Architect Cary Gampher what would come next.

"We would start proposing to Dr. Jones how to illustrate that picture to the public," Gampher said, adding it would take a few weeks to a month to have details such as floor plans ready.

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