More than a dozen new or remodeled schools could be on the drawing boards for Tacoma kids if voters approve a $500 million bond measure Feb. 12.
The Tacoma School Board, which had been discussing the proposal for several weeks, made it official Thursday night. After tweaking ballot language, board members agreed to send the request for funding to voters.
Board members heard from students, parents and staff members last month about the need for aging and inadequate buildings to be modernized or replaced. They described leaking roofs, mold growth, asbestos, foul smells and lack of handicap access in some of the district’s older buildings.
There are 14 schools targeted for major capital improvements under the school district plan, as well as smaller upgrades district-wide that would install new fire alarm systems; enhance buildings’ energy efficiency; fix roofs; and improve restrooms, athletic fields, playgrounds and other school district facilities. Among the planned improvements:
• Modernization of Wilson High School, built in 1958. The first phase of a modernization project was completed in 2007, but older parts of the campus are still in need of updates, school officials and parents said.
• A permanent home for the Science and Math Institute. The small high school has been housed in temporary portable classrooms at Point Defiance Park since it opened in 2009.
• New buildings to replace two schools the district closed in recent years: Wainwright Elementary in Fircrest and Hunt Middle in the West End.
• Modernization of two historic schools: McCarver Elementary in the Hilltop neighborhood and Stewart Middle on Pacific Avenue.
The district has developed a list of the 14 major projects, in anticipated order of construction.
But a memo prepared by district staff also said the timing and order in which projects are completed could change in the future.
Tacoma voters have not approved a construction bond since 2001. New schools and major remodeling projects completed since then include remodeling and expansion of Foss High School, modernization of both Lincoln and Stadium high schools, construction of a new Mount Tahoma High School, a string of new middle schools, and the district’s newest school building, Geiger Montessori School.
Two bond proposals – one in 2006 and another in 2009 – failed at the polls.
In 2010, voters approved a more modest capital levy for more than $140 million. That levy was slated to pay for several new schools. Baker Middle opened in January, and plans for renovation of Washington-Hoyt Elementary are under way. But a new Hunt Middle has been on hold since it was closed in 2010.
District officials say low interest rates, combined with the possibility of refinancing existing school district debt, could save taxpayers money. Property owners currently pay a total tax rate of just over $7 per $1,000 of assessed property value to the Tacoma School District. That includes an operations levy, a capital levy and bond debt.
If the February bond measure passes, the tax rate would rise to roughly $7.80 per $1,000 through 2020, school officials say. If it fails, taxes are projected to rise to $8.63 per $1,000 by 2016.
Approval of the bond would give the school district the ability to fold short-term debt from a capital levy approved in 2010 into longer-term bond financing. Long-term bonds are the traditional way school districts have financed major construction projects. But capital levies usually collect tax dollars for a shorter time and are easier to pass, with a simple majority vote.
The February bond proposal needs to win approval from a supermajority of 60 percent of voters.Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com