Twin Falls breaks ground on first of three new schools

TWIN FALLS — Some of the Magic Valley’s youngest students donned hard hats and hoisted golden shovels to help break ground on Twin Falls’ first new elementary school in 20 years Tuesday.

Twin Falls groundbreaking
Elementary school students break ground at the site of Rock Creek Elementary on Tuesday. Photos by Clark Corbin / Idaho Ed News.

More than 100 community members, district administrators, students, teachers, elected leaders and parents turned out to cheer the students on at the future site of the approximately $15 million Rock Creek Elementary.

Superintendent Wiley Dobbs thanked residents for passing the $73.8 million bond in March 2014 that will pay for the school construction, which he predicted could spark additional economic growth.

“Businesses looking to locate in communities around the country want to know if the community in which they are looking to locate takes care of its children,” Dobbs said. “When they look at Twin Falls, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’”

The new Rock Creek elementary is expected to open in August 2016, and is built to accommodate 650 students in grades K-5.

District officials brought the bond as part of a strategy to decrease class sizes and combat growth within the community. Between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 school years, Twin Falls overall enrollment increased by more than 9.9 percent, or 774 students, according to the state’s official fall enrollment tallies.

Over that same time period, overall statewide enrollment grew by less than 2.6 percent.

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The new school celebrated Tuesday represents only a portion of construction and expansion projects brewing in the growing Magic Valley district.

Wiley Dobbs construction
Superintendent Wiley Dobbs speaks during Tuesday’s ground-breaking ceremony in Twin Falls.

Thanks to the bond’s passage, crews will break ground this summer on a second new elementary school, Pillar Falls. That school will feature a similar floor plan and also open for the start of the 2016-17 school year.

On top of that, crews are set to build a new middle school, South Hill, and undertake renovations at Twin Falls and Canyon Ridge high schools, which will remain open during improvements.

“It’s significant because what I’ve seen in Twin Falls over the last decade is economic growth, and acceptance of that economic growth and the people that come with it,” said Dobbs, who attended school in the district and has served as superintendent for 12 years.

Election results show that Twin Falls bond passed the supermajority threshold by fewer than 70 votes, with 67.7 percent of voters supporting it in 2014.

Twin Falls construction kids
Students patiently await district officials’ signal to “start digging” at the construction site of the district’s first new elementary school 20 years.

Other districts, such as Eastern Idaho’s Bonneville Joint School District, haven’t been as fortunate. For the third straight time, Bonneville’s bond issue aimed at managing student growth fell just short of the supermajority threshold earlier this month – though a recount may be in the works.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, attended Tuesday’s Rock Creek groundbreaking ceremony, and said he does not support any legislative action to lower the two-thirds supermajority requirement.

“It should not be easy to incur debt,” Hartgen said. “This was a very democratic process.”

Back at the Twin Falls construction site, students were surrounded by bulldozers and construction equipment being staged along a dusty and quiet road where the new schools walls will soon rise. Smiles and muffled giggles broke out as a few students struggled to pierce the earth with their ceremonial shovels. One little girl’s hard hat even slid over her eyes and plopped to the ground as she strained to move dirt.

Moments later, district administrators struggled just as mightily, prompting a few wise cracks.

“We can see which ones of them come from a background of agriculture and which ones come from town,” someone quipped.

In the end, students left with smiles on their faces and free souvenir hard hats to commemorate their role in kick-starting construction of Rock Creek Elementary.

Over the coming months, district officials will put together a process to determine boundaries for the new schools and determine how families in existing elementary buildings will be affected. Information about boundaries is expected to be available by December.