Upgrades to Idaho Falls high schools could cost $90 million

IDAHO FALLS – Architects are projecting a $90 million price tag for upgrades to Idaho Falls School District’s two largest schools.

In order to pay for the upgrades, district leaders are considering running a bond, which would result in a tax increase for patrons if a supermajority of voters approve the project.

Idaho Falls trustees met Wednesday at the Compass Academy auditorium to review options for modernizing Idaho Falls and Skyline high schools. Roughly 15 patrons attended the meeting, which centered on cost estimates and potential bond options associated with the project.

Trustees did not make a decision regarding upgrades Wednesday night, saying they are still working through the process, “considering options and gathering input.”

“I do want to emphasize that at this point the board of trustees has not made any decisions about a bond,” said Margaret Winborne, the district’s community engagement coordinator. “They haven’t decided (to) pursue a bond and, if they do, they haven’t made any decisions about an amount. There are a lot of things to consider.”

Superintendent Goerge Boland acknowledged $90 million as a likely figure for moving forward.

Idaho Falls Superintendent George Boland
Idaho Falls Superintendent George Boland

A financial expert provided the board with projected tax increases resulting from a bond for that amount.

Idaho Falls’s current levy rate is $4.24 per $1,000 of net taxable property value, said Eric Heringer, managing director of public finance at Piper Jaffray, an asset management firm headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn.

Heringer told the board a 20-year bond of $90 million is estimated to raise Idaho Falls’s levy rate roughly 52 cents to $4.76. That means a home valued at $100,000 could see an annual tax increase of $52.

Heringer also compared Idaho Falls’ current levy rate to those of surrounding districts. The 52-cent increase would place Idaho Falls between Madison, which has a levy rate of $4.61, and West Jefferson, which comes in at $4.81.

Though the district has not settled on a decision, two major options are most likely at the $90 million amount, said Scott Straubhar, principal architect for Hummel, the Boise firm handling potential upgrades.

Those options include either upgrading both schools or rebuilding Idaho Falls and upgrading only Skyline. Idaho Falls High School was built in 1952; Skyline in 1966.

Some calls for a new “mega” high school, one capable of serving up to 2,600 students, have reached the district and its trustees, Straubhar said – but it’s an unlikely scenario, he added. “We really haven’t spent much time with that option.”

In May, administrators sent out an online survey and offered an open house aimed at gathering input for school upgrades. Specific feedback ranged from a new auditorium at Idaho Falls and Skyline to more modern architecture and study space for students at both schools.

Boland and trustees discussed whether to provide patrons with several options and costs, or to narrow them down to one or two simplified choices.

Trustee David Lent expressed concern that providing the public with too many choices could “fractionize” supporters, potentially jeopardizing any proposal aimed at upgrading the schools.

“If we have any cracks in this at all, it could be years before we get something passed,” he said.

Idaho law requires a two-thirds supermajority of at least 66.6 percent voting yes for a bond to pass.

A bond could come as early as Nov. 8, when the nation will choose a new president. Presidential elections typically constitute a much higher voter turn out than local elections.

Idaho Falls officials must file with the county clerk by Sept. 9, if they hope to meet the November deadline.

March 14, 2017, is another option, which requires a January 23, 2017, filing deadline.

Registered voters within the Idaho Falls School District would have the opportunity to vote on a bond related to the redesign project. Click here to view a map of the district.