Voters approve new middle school in Bonneville. Now what?

IDAHO FALLS — Voters in the Bonneville School District have approved a $35.3 million bond issue for a new middle school. So what’s next?

The district had debated building both a new middle school and a $25 million elementary school to curb overcrowding among k-8 students. Yet legal concerns and fear of splitting support among voters prompted trustees to opt solely for the middle school measure, which passed Tuesday with almost 72 percent support.

Some trustees say a measure for a new elementary school could end up on the ballot later this year.

Meanwhile, construction of the new middle school carries a variety of financial, infrastructural and academic implications.

Here’s a closer look at what likely comes next and when.

Will taxes increase?

School administrators say the $35.3 million middle school measure won’t raise the district’s current property tax levy rate of $5.79 per $1,000 of assessed value because of rapid population growth, which keeps costs for bond measures down by spreading the district’s share of local taxes to more home and business owners in the district.

Bonneville superintendent Chuck Shackett echoed this refrain during a series of public meetings held prior to Tuesday’s vote, hinting at the district’s capacity to cover costs tied to a new elementary school.

“I think we can continue to build without (increasing the levy rate),” Shackett said.

It’s hard to say whether or not Bonneville’s growth is enough to completely cancel out a tax hike stemming from an additional elementary school, since things like population growth and rising interest rates vary. Idaho Education News has shown that Bonneville’s tax base is still developing, and that property owners in the district are paying one of the highest levy rates in the state to support growth.

At least one local group is already calling for ways to absorb more growth without additional infrastructure.

D93 Citizens, a local conservative group, supported the middle school bond measure, but is now calling for “school board members and (administrators) to use existing resources before proposing additional bonds.”

The group says these resources could include:

  • Updating school boundaries.
  • Providing additional busing.
  • Using modular units at elementary schools.

“District 93 taxpayers are tapped out,” said D93 Citizens spokesperson Halli Stone.

Shackett said: “We need an elementary school as much as we need a middle school.”

When and where will the new middle school be built?

Shackett said construction crews are “ideally” slated to break ground for the 120,000-square-foot middle school in February or March 2019, on 40 district-owned acres adjacent to the nearly completed Thunder Ridge High School.

“As soon as the ground starts to thaw,” Shackett said Wednesday.

The year-long delay stems from a seven-month design period, Shackett said, and another “couple of months” to secure bids for the project.

Both Shackett and Bonneville maintenance and operations director John Pymm estimate another two years for crews to complete the project, which would allow administrators to open the school’s doors for the 2021-22 school year.

“That’s unless some kind of natural disaster occurs,” Shackett said.

Tuesday’s measure also included funding for a new roof at Iona Elementary School and a Falls Valley Elementary School parent drop-off loop. Pymm expects work on these projects to begin as early as this summer and be done for the 2018-19 school year.

Who will attend the new middle school?

Bonneville middle school boundaries will eventually reflect the district’s previously approved high school boundaries, which will go into effect next school year when Thunder Ridge High School opens.

Here’s where students will go, once the new middle school opens:

  • Rocky Mountain Middle School students will attend Bonneville High School.
  • Sandcreek Middle School students will attend Hillcrest High School.
  • Students attending the new middle school will attend Thunder Ridge High School.

Middle school boundaries will not change to reflect these new high school boundaries until the new middle school opens in 2021-22, Pymm said,

“That’s unless the district experiences an unexpected influx of students,” he added.

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