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05-14-09 - Land purchase achieves a major goal of school bond measure
The Hood River County School Board has agreed to buy 17 acres of land in Hood River for future schools.
The land at 30th Street and Montello Avenue will cost an estimated $2.36 million. Money for the purchase comes from a $25.1 million bond measure that local voters approved in May 2008. The bond measure does not increase property tax for schools above the 2007 rate.
The School Board included money for land in the bond measure because of the district’s historic growth rate of about 40 students per year. That’s the equivalent of 1.5 classrooms annually. The district has enrolled an estimated 47 students more in this school year than in 2007-08.
Buying the land now has some cost advantages for the district and local taxpayers. For one thing, prices are lower than they have been in several years. In addition, reduced demand means affordable land is available within Hood River city limits. That wasn’t true as little as a year ago.
Until April 2009, the school district had an option to buy land near Rocky Road that was outside the Urban Growth Boundary. At the time, it was the only land in the area that was available, suitable for a school and affordably priced. However, had the district proceeded with that purchase, it would have faced expensive regulatory hearings under state law protecting rural farmland and federal law protecting scenic land in the Columbia River Gorge.
The next steps in the purchase process are to complete the planning studies and environmental testing to assure that the land is a good choice for school construction and to estimate the costs of site preparation for this property.
The land purchase will not affect the funds available to balance the school district’s operating budget. The district is not using operating funds to pay for bond projects. And state law prohibits using bond funds to pay salaries, benefits or any other costs of school operation, including administration.
What bond funds will do is provide renovations, energy efficiencies and added learning space at all of the district’s schools, which average 66 years old. Work on the major construction portion of the bond measure is expected to begin this summer. A community committee is providing guidance to ensure that all bond funds go directly to the projects approved by voters.
Voters have approved two important funding measures for the public schools of Hood River County: renewal of a Local Option Operating Levy and renewal of a Construction Bond Levy. Renewing both money measures will not increase school district property tax rates above the 2007 rates.