Parents are starting to come through Bonneville Joint School District 93 this week to register their children for the new school year. As they do, the district is hoping to give them information they need to vote on the next district bond.

Early voting opened Monday morning for the district’s newest bond proposal, a plan that would raise $42.7 million to build a new elementary school and create additions and renovations at Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools.

The bond vote will be held Aug. 27 and needs a supermajority of two-thirds approval to pass.

This is the fourth proposal the district has run to create a new school since 2012. Summit Hills Elementary, Thunder Ridge High School and Black Canyon Middle School were all eventually approved through a combined $112.8 million in bonds. The plan for the new elementary school is to have it open at the start of the 2021 school year, at the same time as Black Canyon Middle School.

While the district is projected to continue adding more than 200 new students a year, the elementary school would be the last brand-new building that it needs for the next 12 years. The two high schools are at just over 80 percent capacity and likely will take five more years to max out.

“Part of the idea is that by creating the extra space now, when we’re at 80 percent, we can leave those classrooms open for now and rectify any issues in the next phase,” Director of Facilities John Pymm said.

Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said the public response has been mostly quiet so far, closer to response to the middle school bond than the contentious yearlong debate over the Thunder Ridge bond in 2015. The district began holding public meetings at patrons’ homes last week, where school leaders and pro-bond parents could help explain the details of the plan, but those events were sparsely attended.

Earlier in August, the D93 Citizens group released a statement through its Facebook page with 13 points of opposition to the bond proposal. The majority of the points related to the proposed additions to the two high schools and financial impact for taxpayers.

“If this one elementary school is truly needed, it should stand on its own merits and have its own bond election,” the statement read.

High school additions

The $11 million in additions at Hillcrest High School and $12.8 million in additions at Bonneville would be focused in two areas: redesigns that increase student safety and improvements to the schools’ science classrooms.

The security redesigns at the schools are largely about limiting access to the building. Both schools have relatively open main entrances and multiple doors into the buildings, as well as hallways that dead-end and create bottlenecks for students. Bonneville High School has some fire exits that are located in classrooms.

The redesign would move the main office at each school closer to the front entrance, requiring visitors to pass through the offices and sign in before they could gain access to the rest of the school. This design is already in place at many of the district’s newer schools, as a more consistent preventative measure than the security cameras that are installed at the entrances.

“If your office is right there and people are forced to come in, you’ll have eyes on people a lot more easily,” Woolstenhulme said.

D93 Citizens point to statements made during bond discussions in 2015, when the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office said that expanding the current high schools would add safety risks, and questioned how much the new office would improve on the current setup of security cameras.

The science labs at the schools have received some improvements over the years but are still lacking in a few crucial features. The labs at Bonneville were built without drains in the floor for eyewash stations and some rooms didn’t have sinks when they were first built. At Hillcrest, the perimeter of sinks and counters around the room force students to stand while working, which makes it difficult for them to face the teacher or work together.

Heath Jackson, former principal at Bonneville High School and the district’s current director of human resources, said the redesign and improvements would make it easier for students to get practical lessons in chemistry and other scientific fields.

“Our kids are getting all the standard material but it’s mostly instructed. They get very limited hands-on experience,” Jackson said.

Cost and discussion

Based on the current interest rates and increases in taxable land value in the county, the new bond will cost county residents $92 a year on average for every $100,000 of a home’s taxable value. The school levy rate will remain the same and residents wouldn’t begin paying that much right away, as the cost of the bond is spread over the next 17 years with the largest amount set aside for the final years after other bonds are paid off.

Woolstenhulme said the per-property estimate might begin dropping the week after the vote, when the state officially announces the county land values in the beginning of September. Based on the estimates from earlier this year, the expected average cost could drop closer to $80 a year.

So why is the district holding the vote now instead of waiting for the new assessment and the new enrollment totals for the schools? Woolstenhulme said the district is worried construction costs will keep rising and make the final proposal more expensive.

That already happened once before for this bond, as changing costs and state requirements increased the cost from $39 million even as the district cut back on additions to the special education programs.

District leaders had similar concerns about Phase 2 of the high school additions, which have has been discussed by the school board and district leaders in general terms but had no set timetable at the moment. The next phase would likely focus on remodeling hallways and updating current classrooms, with any additional classrooms being added to Thunder Ridge.

“If we can get started while the construction companies are still at the school, that would be cheaper. But we know people are getting tired of holding these bond votes every year or two,” Woolstenhulme said.

Early voting on the bond can be conducted by mail until Aug. 23. Polling locations for the Aug. 27 election can be found at https://apps.idahovotes.gov/YourPollingPlace/.

Contact Brennen with news tips at 208-542-6711.