IDAHO FALLS — Idaho Falls School District trustees have approved plans to float a $110 million bond issue this November to redesign the district’s two high schools.
The decision came during a Tuesday board meeting, ending more than 18 months of deliberation on how to best modernize both Idaho Falls and Skyline high schools.
In the end, trustees settled on a plan to extensively remodel Skyline and rebuild Idaho Falls at a new location.
Currently proposed upgrades hinge on the necessity to modernize education at both schools.
“As a board member, I feel my most important responsibility is to ensure our children have all they need to succeed,” said trustee Larry Wilson. “I know these schools … and I can safely say we do not have 21st century high schools right now.”
What will patrons get if approved?
Skyline High School’s proposed upgrades include a “top-down” renovation of current facilities:
- Modernized classrooms
- A new learning commons area where students can meet to collaborate and learn
- A new auditorium
- New athletic facilities and space for future growth
Plans for a new Idaho Falls High School reflect these features, but also include “development of outdoor athletic facilities.”
Both schools would feature improved access control and upgraded pick-up and drop-off areas for students, staff, parents and buses.
Click here to view conceptual designs for both schools.
Will patrons’ taxes increase?
Trustees say no.
But like any school bond issue of this magnitude, some unknowable factors are at play, including interest rates and population growth.
Municipal bond interest rates remain at historic lows, financial expert Eric Heringer told trustees Tuesday, and they could for several more years.
Which is good news for taxpayers. But recent population growth in Idaho Falls has been sluggish at times, including three consecutive years of decline from 2011 to 2013.
As a result, Heringer, a managing director of asset management firm Piper Jaffray, recommended selling the project’s bonds piecemeal — $55 million in 2018 and another $55 million in 2020.
The extra two years would buy the district a little more time for property values to climb and population to increase before the district incurs the total $110 million debt.
Heringer’s “conservative” estimates pegged the district’s growth at 6 percent in 2018, 5 percent from 2019-2020 and 2.5 percent from 2021 to 2029.
Factoring in other state subsidies and the future payoff of existing debt, Heringer told trustees the big-money project could be done without incurring an increase to the district’s current levy rate of $4.24 per $1,000 of taxable value.
When will the new facilities be complete?
If voters OK the measure, work would begin in 2018. The schools could open their doors by the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
Where will the new high school be located?
Trustees also approved the purchase of a $1.45 million plat to house the new Idaho Falls High School. This is a 58-acre site on 49th South between Holmes and St. Clair near Taylorview Middle School.
The existing Idaho Falls High School would be repurposed to serve other “district and community needs.”
What will it take to pass?
Idaho requires a two-thirds supermajority for bond issues to pass.
And it’s hard to say how the possibility of a potential $65 million bond issue in the nearby Bonneville School District could affect Idaho Falls’ redesign hopes.
Bonneville trustees had originally planned on pitching their upgrades to patrons in August, not November. But that changed July 12, when a newly sworn-in trustee motioned to nix a previously adopted measure to build a $58 million middle school.
Bonneville is now eyeing a new elementary school for around $29 million, or a new elementary school and middle school for around $65 million.
A November bond issue in Bonneville could put both Bonneville County-based school districts on a collision course for taxpayer dollars.
It’s still unclear if Bonneville will put a bond on the November ballot.
Stay with Idaho Education News for further developments on this story.