Pocatello trustees approve bond to restore Highland High

Updated 11:21 a.m. to clarify that the $42 million figure is an estimate, not a finalized bond request. 

The Pocatello School District will float an estimated $42 million bond measure to cover renovation and enhancement costs for Highland High School, after a fire destroyed sections of the building in April.

The decision comes after a 3-2 vote at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Since April’s devastating fire, district leaders have been eyeing their options.

After months of collecting community input and feedback, the district narrowed their options to two: approve an estimated $42 million bond for renovation, or approve a $115 million bond to build a new high school and repurpose Highland into a middle school. Trustees considered these options Tuesday.

Trustee Deanna Judy urged the board to stamp its approval on the $115 bond measure.

Building a new school would serve the district for years to come and account for community growth, she said. And with three landowners offering to sell their land to the school district specifically for the new building, Judy said, now would be the perfect opportunity to build a brand new facility.

The land offers mentioned by Judy had not yet been discussed by the board at large, and no additional details were provided Tuesday.

Others weren’t so sure.

Opponents argued that building a new high school is not necessary based on current class sizes and growth numbers — instead, they argued, the focus should be on repairing Highland and searching for land that can be used in the future, when the schools have seen enough growth to warrant the construction of a new school.

“Of course we’d love a beautiful new school…there’s a lot of things we’d like to have,” said trustee Heather Clarke. “But I don’t think this community is going to support a bond that size.”

Judy also suggested that a new high school would attract people from around the state, boosting Pocatello’s real estate market and local economy.

“I don’t believe it’s our schools that are discouraging people from moving here,” responded Clarke, citing a weak job market as the reason for slow growth.

After a thirty-minute debate, the board voted down Judy’s motion to table the discussion until after hearing presentations from landowners about possible land options, and approved a plan to float the bond in November.

The approved bond proposal will fund renovations at Highland to restore the school to full function and expand the capacity from 1,500 students to 2,000 students. The bond would fund expansions in the school’s gymnasium and auditorium, which proponents said will improve usage not only for students, but the community at large. The bond will also fund a gym expansion at Century High School.

Both options considered Tuesday, as outlined by the district.

If approved in November, the project would likely be complete by 2026. It’s projected to cost taxpayers anywhere from $31 to $50 per $100,000 of taxable value, depending on the length of the bond.

“This is an opportunity to boost these two high schools…in a way that benefits the entire community,” Clarke said. “That, to me, is what makes the justification.”

The $42 million estimate is not yet finalized, clarified Pocatello communications officer Courtney Fisher Thursday.

“The district is in the process of finalizing the scope of the project, and working with bond counsel to prepare the ballot language, which will be released to the public no later than September 18.”

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber

Sadie Dittenber is a former reporter with Ed News. She is a College of Idaho graduate and was born and raised in the Treasure Valley.

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