Bonneville to increase $39.5 million bond issue

IDAHO FALLS — The Bonneville School District’s plan to fund a new elementary school and other structural upgrades will likely cost millions of dollars more than previously anticipated.

Trustees in the growing district had considered floating a $39.5 million bond issue to construct the new elementary school, add science classrooms, modify entryways at Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools and renovate special-needs facilities.

The school board was expected to approve putting the measure on the August ballot during a board meeting Wednesday.

That was before Bonneville maintenance and operations director John Pymm pointed to two areas where cost projections appear to fall short:

  1. A new elementary school: Bonneville originally projected a $16.8 million price tag — a figure Pymm called “optimistic.” Based on an “almost identical” school being built in the Jefferson School District, Pymm now puts the amount at about $19.5 million.
  2. Bonneville High School upgrades: Renovating around the school’s subterranean gymnasium drives up the cost of this portion of the project, Pymm told trustees. Pymm said the district should anticipate a cost of around $13 million, not the original estimate of $10 million.

Pymm told Idaho Education News on Thursday that the district could cut other costs tied to Bonneville High renovations. He now hopes to find a way to keep this portion of the proposal at closer to $10 million.

Altogether, patrons should expect the overall proposal to increase by $2 million to $5 million, Pymm said.

Trustees expect to consider an updated proposal at their June 26 board meeting. This measure could still end up on the August ballot.

Idaho requires a two-thirds supermajority for a bond issue to pass.

Bonneville Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme has said he does not expect costs tied to the renovations to increase the district’s levy rate. At $39.5 million, the estimated average annual cost to local property owners is $86.75 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value, according to a bond resolution presented at Wednesday’s meeting.

Woolstenhulme said the district’s increased property values and continued population growth would cancel out the prospect of a levy rate increase.

A local opposition group, D93 Citizens, called the $39.5 million measure “extravagant” and “outrageous.”

“D93 Citizens has a number of questions about this ill-conceived bond that will add a new tax of almost $90 a year to the annual property tax bill for the average homeowner, and far more for others, including businesses and farmers,” the group’s spokeswoman, Halli Stone, wrote in a news release Tuesday.

Securing local revenue to fund structural upgrades in Bonneville has not been easy. Due largely to its rural and agricultural tax base, the district generates less local revenue than other districts its size. As a result, Bonneville patrons pay one of the highest levy rates in Idaho.

A year ago, Bonneville patrons approved a $35.3 million bond issue for a new middle school. Three months later, the district’s new $63.5 million Thunder Ridge High School opened its doors.

In November, Woolstenhulme stressed his commitment not to raise the district’s levy rate, despite continued population growth. The first-year superintendent pointed to an increase in local revenue of almost $4 million since 2014 — coming from the district’s still-developing tax base.

“That’s going to help us a lot,” Woolstenhulme said.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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