Puyallup Herald

Puyallup ballot to include $273 million tax proposal to upgrade security at high schools

Puyallup School District looks at “one building” approach to high schools

Brian Fox discusses the possibility of consolidating spread-out campuses into a single building each to help increase security of those schools.
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Brian Fox discusses the possibility of consolidating spread-out campuses into a single building each to help increase security of those schools.

The Puyallup School Board will ask district voters in November to approve a $273 million construction bond to modernize high schools with improved security features.

The board voted unanimously on July 10 to put the proposal on the ballot.

If voters approve, the money would be used to consolidate classrooms from portables and smaller buildings at Puyallup, Rogers and Walker high schools into the main building. Emerald Ridge would add on to the existing building.

“The priority is safety for students and staff,” said chief operations officer Mario Casello, who presented the projects to the board.

The high schools would be redesigned to have a single entrance and upgraded security features, like security cameras and emergency flashing light alarms.

If passed, bondholders would provide $273 million up front, and revenue from increased property taxes would pay back the money. Property owners would be taxed $3.94 per $1,000 of the assessed value starting with their 2020 tax bill, said Corine Pennington, PSD’s chief financial officer. The bond is unlimited, which means taxes can be increased as much as needed to pay off the debt for each year.

Bond bills in Washington must be supported by at least 60 percent of voters, rather than a simple majority. The last bond approved by Puyallup voters, in 2015, addressed overcrowding in elementary schools. The project added a new elementary school, replaced Firgrove, Northwood and Sunrise, and expanded Pope. It was the first bond by Puyallup voters in more than a decade.

Earlier this month, the board also considered two levies for the ballot. A levy is an increased property tax that isn’t a debt but pays directly for projects, programs or operations.

One of the levies would fund technological improvements and equipment at $21.7 million. The second would help maintain K-12 programs and fund day-to-day operations for $11.6 million.

Both were tabled after discussion that putting three tax measures on a single ballot was not a good idea.

Because the operations levy was pushed, it is now too late to make November’s ballot. The school district will be operating in a deficit during the upcoming school year and dip into the balance from the previous year and lay off some staff, Pennington said. The net is 21.85 fewer staff for the upcoming academic year.

Board members did not respond to requests for comment before going to print.

“The board felt like the most important thing is safety and security and to make the right improvements to make sure we have more confidence in the ability to keep students and staff safe,” Casello said.

The proposal addresses the aging infrastructure at the high schools. At Puyallup High, there are 67 unlocked doors during the day. Students attend class in portables across the street and in the adjacent career-and-science building. A gym and the library are in separate buildings.

“There is nothing right now to stop someone coming into the school off the street,” Casello said.

Here are a few more details:

Puyallup High: The main building sits on a block that would be entirely one building, Casello said. Construction would add 126,000 square feet for classrooms. Student population is expected to grow to 2,000 by 2025.

Rogers: The area between buildings would be developed and add 71,000 square feet to accommodate up to 2,000 students.

Emerald Ridge: An additional 61,000 square feet would extend from the singular building to include a common area and a new library.

Walker: The school currently has nine buildings, all of which would be consolidated into the main building. An additional 18,500 square feet would be constructed to tack on more classrooms, a new entrance, and a health-and-fitness area.

All of the schools’ new classrooms would include space for career and technical programs, science classrooms and instructional spaces.

If the bond passes, Casello says design and planning could start in January 2020 and take at least 10 months before construction could begin.

A similar bond to update security features, add new fields and replace schools, was presented to the Tacoma School District’s board for $535 million.

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.