Bonneville mulling $38.8 million bond issue, long range growth plan

IDAHO FALLS — The Bonneville School District could float a $38.8 bond issue for a new elementary school and other major upgrades as early as May.

Trustees met Wednesday morning to discuss a possible timeframe for running the measure, which would fund the construction of eight new science classrooms at both Bonneville and Hillcrest high schools, in addition to the new elementary school.

Trustees did not vote on Wednesday, but agreed that the May election presented a good “soft target” date for running the measure.

The district had considered floating the bond issue in March. However, a nearly hourlong logistics discussion with administrators and project consultants on Wednesday encouraged trustees to lean toward the May election.

“May gives us more time to talk to the public,” trustee Chad Dance told fellow trustees during the meeting.

It’s still unclear where the new elementary school will be built. Financial experts at Piper Jaffray, the asset management firm in line to sell the project’s bonds, are not projecting a tax increase stemming from the measure.

The bond issue could kick off a long-range growth plan

The $38.8 million measure could be the first of a 12-year, $176.5 million plan to upgrade facilities across the Bonneville School District.

This proposal includes three other separate bond issues to fund a series of projects from 2022 to 2030. Here’s a look at what these other measures could fund:

  • 2022: A $38 million bond issue that would include another new elementary school to replace Ammon Elementary School, more high school renovations and other upgrades.
  • 2026: A $25.1 million bond issue for more high school renovations and to acquire more land.
  • 2030: A $38.3 bond issue for a third elementary school and more high school upgrades.

The combined, pre-inflated price tag for all the projects: $140.1 million. However, financial experts at Piper Jaffray say 12 years of inflation could drive that number to $176.5 million — and spur future tax hikes for local property owners.

It’s hard to say how much of an increase patrons would see if the measures pass, since increases to a district’s levy rate as a result of a bond issue depend on a number of unknowable factors, including future market value growth.

However, a Piper Jaffray planning summary for the long-range project provides a breakdown of three possible growth scenarios, and potential associated tax hikes. The summary’s most conservative growth estimate to the district’s property value from 2022 to 2030 lies at 2 percent, which would spur an annual property tax hike of $174 per $100,000 of taxable value. A less conservative growth rate of 4 percent would bring annual tax increases to $35 per $100,000 of taxable value.

Trustees did not discuss the 12-year upgrade plan during Wednesday’s meeting.

Bonneville’s enrollment grew from 12,224 in 2016-17 to 12,527 in 2017-18, according to State Department of Education numbers. Years of continued growth has driven demand for more learning space across the district. Four years ago, trustees floated a $95 million bond measure to build both a new high school and a new middle school. The proposal failed to receive a majority of votes, let alone the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass in Idaho.

After failing a second — and third — time, the district whittled the measure to $63.5 million by ditching an original request for a new middle school. The measure passed in 2015.

The resulting high school, Thunder Ridge, is now complete. It’s equipped to absorb up to 1,500 students, but at an added cost to local taxpayers. The school’s $63.5 million price tag breaks down to about $35 per $100,000 of taxable value.

In March, voters in the Bonneville School District approved a $35.3 million bond issue for a new middle school, which workers are slated to begin construction on next year. This measure is not expected to fuel a tax increase.

The school board’s next scheduled meeting is set for Dec. 12.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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