Education

After nearly two decades, Franklin Pierce likely has approved a school bond

Franklin Pierce School District assistant director of operations Doug Vanderleest checks the sewage line that was put in to deal with blocked sewage at Collins Elementary School. Approval of a $157 million bond means the school district will replace five aging elementary schools, including Collins, and upgrade other facilities.
Franklin Pierce School District assistant director of operations Doug Vanderleest checks the sewage line that was put in to deal with blocked sewage at Collins Elementary School. Approval of a $157 million bond means the school district will replace five aging elementary schools, including Collins, and upgrade other facilities. lwong@thenewstribune.com

For the first time since 1998, the Franklin Pierce School District just outside Tacoma is celebrating a successful bond election.

With nearly 10,000 ballots counted as of Wednesday morning, the $157 million, 20-year bond measure appears to have surpassed the 60-percent supermajority needed for approval.

“We are overjoyed to win this bond measure on behalf of our 8,000 students and the future students that will benefit from these improvements,” said Superintendent Frank Hewins. “We look forward to working with the community as project plans are fully developed.”

Proceeds from the bond sales will replace five of the district’s eight elementary schools: Brookdale, Central Avenue, Collins, Harvard and James Sales. It will also pay for other improvements, including:

▪ A 500-seat performing arts center at Franklin Pierce High School, which doesn’t have one

▪ A new gym at Ford Middle School

▪ A grandstand, concession stand and restroom improvements at the district’s sole sports stadium.

▪ Secure, access-controlled entryways at every Franklin Pierce school

▪ New science labs for the district’s two comprehensive high schools

Franklin Pierce voters twice defeated bond measures in 2008

The average age of schools in the Franklin Pierce district is 61 years. The newest elementary, Midland, opened in 2003.

Franklin Pierce voters twice rejected bond proposals in 2008.

They did approve a short-term capital levy in 2012, which paid for new commons facilities at two middle schools. District officials were clear then that the capital levy was only the first phase of needed construction, and that a bond — which can raise more money over a longer period of time — was still needed.

“We wanted to do it in a way that was sensitive to taxpayers,” Hewins said. “We know they have a heavy burden.”

Franklin Pierce’s district contains little commercial or industrial property, so individual property owners bear the brunt of the tax burden.

The district marketed the bond to voters as a “no new taxes” measure, with an estimated cost to Franklin Pierce property owners of $2.82 per $1,000 of assessed value per year. Bond supporters said the net effect will be no tax increase, because the new bond will essentially take the place of both the 1998 bond and the 2012 capital levy. The last collections on both those tax measures take place in 2017, Hewins said.

He said the district learned much from the 2008 bond defeats.

“We didn’t foresee the economic recession that hit us,” Hewins said. “The timing was bad.”

He said the double defeats forced the district to “go back to the drawing board and really engage our community. We wanted to make sure we were on the right track with priorities and needs.”

The district sponsored a series of community forums that led up to the decision to place Tuesday’s bond measure before voters. Projects in the current bond package were chosen by a district committee that included parents, staff, students and district residents with no children in the schools.

Now, the district must establish a timeline for its building program. Big decisions that lie ahead include the order in which the new schools will be built, and where students will be housed while the new schools are under construction.

We look forward to working with the community as project plans are fully developed

Frank Hewins, superintendent, Franklin Pierce School District

Hewins said that he sees the vote as a “referendum on the work we have been doing. We are grateful for all the voters that supported the district and bond measure, and the hundreds of volunteers who helped communicate about the bond.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

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