AMMON — Bonneville Joint School District 93 officials made their pitch for a new middle school Tuesday evening.
“It’s very clear that we need some space,” Superintendent Charles Shackett told the crowd of a few dozen in the Sandcreek Middle School cafeteria, as he showed the audience slides with charts of the district’s growth.
Shackett said District 93, which is one of the fastest-growing districts in what according to the U.S. Census Bureau is the fastest-growing state in the country, is going to have to keep building new schools as more people move in.
“It’s exciting, but we’ve got to stay ahead of the growth,” he said.
The district is asking voters to approve a $35.3 million bond on March 13 to build a new middle school next to the soon-to-be-opened Thunder Ridge High School. The school board held public meetings Tuesday at Sandcreek and, after that, at Rocky Mountain Middle School, to make the case. Early voting has started and continues through March 9. The bond needs two-thirds support to pass.
The attendance zone for the new middle school, Shackett said, would be the same as for Thunder Ridge, which is slated to open this fall. The bond would be paid back over about 17 years with about $15 million total in interest, of which $5 million would come from district funds and $10 million from the state’s bond levy equalization fund.
Most of the bond is for the middle school, but $3 million would go toward a few smaller projects — replacing the roof at Iona Elementary School, a new pickup and drop-off loop at Falls Valley Elementary and land and design services for future district construction projects.
Kevin Bodily, principal with NBW Architects based in Idaho Falls, said there would be one secure entrance to the school, and the individual classrooms and the larger “pods” could be locked down. Security was very much on the mind of at least two attendees, who asked how a lockdown would work and how the school would be secured against an intruder. Each pod, Bodily, would have a secure exit to the outside.
“What we’re trying to do is move students out of the building,” Bodily said. “Move them to a secure location.”
If someone came through the main entrance, he said, the entire building could be locked down with the press of a button.
“Hopefully a perpetrator will not even be able to make it to a pod,” he said.
Bodily said he would work with the state on how to implement the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security’s “move, secure, defend” protocol to respond to an active shooter.
“The bottom line is we’re working with different agencies (to adopt) the latest criteria,” he said.
The school board’s decision to put just a middle school on the ballot came after a long debate over what type of new buildings were most immediately needed. The board had voted last summer to put a middle school and a special education hub on the ballot, but scrapped that plan. In December 2017, it voted to put a “tiered” bond on the ballot, with a middle school as the first tier and an elementary school combined with a special education hub as the second tier. In January, the board decided to go with just a middle school for now instead. The debate took place in the shadow of the failure of a $110 million high school bond proposal in neighboring Idaho Falls School District 91, and one of the arguments was that a smaller bond building just one school would be more likely to pass.
Kenneth Lembrich, of Ammon, said that while he doesn’t disagree with the need for a middle school, he wondered why the district wasn’t building an elementary school or special education hub. It would have been cheaper, he said — the December proposal had a 650-student elementary school plus a 200-student special ed hub pegged at $25 million.
“I think we need to support the elementary and the special education kids in the school,” he said.
Shackett, who in debates before the board’s decision had argued in favor of both an elementary and middle school, took the question. He said the board still plans to ask voters for a bond for an elementary school and special education hub, likely in August or November.
“It will happen,” he said. “It’s just … not going to happen at the same time.”
Shackett pointed to the bond to build Thunder Ridge, which took four tries before it passed, as evidence of why a smaller bond made more political sense to the board. He said the decision to move forward with just the middle school now “wasn’t an easy one.”
“That was done to lessen the possibility of a full-scale opposition to our bond,” Shackett said.
Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews