Idaho Falls to float $99.5 million bond issue

IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Falls School District will float a $99.5 million bond issue in August to upgrade its high schools.

Trustees unanimously approved the amount during a work session at the school district Thursday.

The revised measure reflects the school board’s months-long attempt to scale back its controversial $110 million bond issue to fund the project, which failed to gain a two-thirds supermajority of votes needed to pass in November.

Though the revised amount reduces some expenses, the project’s main focus to upgrade both Skyline and Idaho Falls high schools remains the same. This time around, patrons will vote on a “base bond” option to cover the project’s three core upgrades:

  • A new $54 million Idaho Falls High.
  • Extensive upgrades to Skyline High, costing over $28 million.
  • A $2 million project to transform existing Idaho Falls High into a career-technical school.

In addition, voters will have their say on a $13.3 million “tiered” option to build a $9.8 million performing arts center at Skyline and a $3.5 million “gymatorium” at Idaho Falls High, which would double as both a gymnasium and a 450-seat auditorium.

Board chair Lisa Burtenshaw touted the tiered approach this time around.

“Now we’re providing that choice,” Burtenshaw said.

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Burtneshaw also said the revised measure reflects trustees’ attempt to reevaluate their overall request for funds — feedback they gleaned from a patron survey conducted in the wake of the failed November measure.

When factoring in inflated construction costs and material shortages since the last measure failed, Burtenshaw said the total reduction actually adds up to some $14 million.

Specific floor plans for transforming current Idaho Falls High into a career-technical school also addresses patrons’ concerns that the district didn’t provide a clear picture for repurposing the school last go-round, Burtenshaw said.

“That’s another difference,” she added.

Though the bulk of reductions stem from scaling back the project’s overall scope, trustees also wanted the amount to simply look better on paper.

Trustee Larry Wilson had motioned Thursday for a $100 million measure. The board tabled the motion, however, after Burtenshaw said a measure below $100 million would have a better chance of passing.

“If we can keep it under $100 million, it will pass,” trustee David Lent said at the board’s last meeting.

Earlier this month, the board also discussed the measure’s potential impact on the district’s levy rate. Financial experts at Piper Jaffray, the asset management firm in line to sell the project’s bonds, are again projecting no increase to the district’s levy rate of $424 per $100,000 of taxable value.

“I want to thank all of you,” Burtenshaw told trustees and school administrators Thursday. “I know you have spent a lot of time on this.”

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