AMMON — Bonneville School District trustees have approved plans to float a $58.5 million bond issue for a new middle school this August.
The decision came during a special Wednesday board meeting aimed at addressing Ammon’s rapid population growth, which has resulted in a recent bond issue for a new high school, pushed the district’s middle school enrollment to capacity and left at least two current elementary schools overcrowded.
“I feel like there are so many moving parts to all of this,” said board treasurer Amy Landers. “There’s just no one perfect answer.”
Debate over the best way to absorb the dizzying growth has revolved around building a new elementary school to help absorb K-6 elementary enrollment, or building a new middle school to accommodate sixth-graders and alleviate elementary school overcrowding.
Patrons voiced mixed opinions during the meeting, with some worrying that moving sixth-graders into middle schools could be harmful to the kids’ learning and development. Others pointed out that trustees have long emphasized the need for a new middle school, and could lose credibility with patrons if they opted for an elementary school instead.
In the end, trustees settled on plans to build a new middle school capable of serving up to 1,500 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
What will patrons get if the bond issue passes?
In addition to a new middle school, the bond issue’s projected $58.5 million price tag will also get patrons a new special education “hub” and several structural upgrades to two elementary schools.
The new SPED hub will likely be built onto the district’s Tiebreaker Elementary School and is slated to serve up to 220 kids.
Structural upgrades include a new roof for Iona Elementary School and safety improvements at Falls Valley Elementary School — namely a new pick-up and drop-off area for kids.
Will patrons’ taxes increase?
Maybe. Maybe not. Since increases to a district’s levy rate as a result of a bond issue depend on a number of unknowable factors, including growth and state bond subsidies.
Eric Heringer, managing director of public finance at the asset management firm Piper Jaffray, attended Wednesday’s meeting and lined out some “conservative” growth estimates in the district. Assuming a 7 percent growth rate in 2018-19 and 4 percent growth for the remaining 18 years of the bond, Heringer estimated that patrons would not see an increase to the current levy rate of $5.80 per $1,000 of net taxable property.
This estimate also assumes that state bond-interest subsidies continue to kick in during the life of the bond, which could round out to savings of more than $18 million and help keep the levy rate where it currently is.
When will the new facilities and upgrades be completed?
If the Aug. 29 bond issue passes, the district hopes to open the new middle school in 2020.
The SPED hub could be finished as early as 2019. Winter weather permitting, said Bonneville’s director of facilities John Pymm, improvements to Iona and Falls Valley could be completed as early as next summer.
Where will the new middle school be located?
The district owns 40 acres immediately east of Thunder Ridge High School, almost directly across from the Iona Cemetery. Pymm confirmed Thursday that this property, “a stone’s throw from Thunder Ridge,” will serve as the new location for the middle school, with First Street providing frontage access.
What will it take to pass?
Idaho requires a two-thirds supermajority for bond issues to pass — a hurdle Bonneville has struggled to clear in the past.
Bonneville’s original bond issue for a new high school failed three times before passing last year. The district originally asked voters to approve a $95 million bond issue to build both a new high school and a new middle school, designed to take in the district’s sixth graders.
But the original bond issue failed to receive a majority of votes the first time around, let alone the supermajority needed to pass.
So the school district whittled the amount down two more times before eventually settling at $63.5 million — and ultimately dumping its original request for a new middle school.
Stay with Idaho Education News for further developments on this story.