Idaho’s largest school district is gathering input from patrons about a range of possible facilities upgrades.
Last week, the West Ada district sent a 41-question survey to some 80,000 community members, district spokesman Greg Wilson told EdNews Wednesday. Over 10,000 patrons had completed the survey by Wednesday afternoon, shortly before it closed at 5 p.m.
The questionnaire seeks opinions on local population growth, overcrowding in schools and what factors should determine the need to renovate or replace buildings. It also gauges support for upgrading things like parking lots, sidewalks, bus loops, playgrounds, fine arts and career-technical education facilities.
For years, West Ada has been at the epicenter of growth in Idaho. In May, the U.S. Census Bureau put Meridian at No. 13 for the fastest-growing large U.S. cities between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, with a population of 125,963. The city came in at No. 11 nationally for the largest numeric increase in that same timeframe, with an increase of 6,234 people.
New and improved facilities have been a discussion point in West Ada and other Idaho districts for years as schools grapple with a clash between aging infrastructure and rapid population growth. The Kuna School District is mulling up to $300 million in facilities upgrades for the coming years, and the Idaho Falls School District announced last month that it will float a $250 million bond issue on Nov. 8 — the largest to be put on a ballot by an Idaho school board to date. By comparison, the Boise School District passed a $172.5 million bond issue in 2017.
It’s too early to put a price tag on a possible bond issue to fund upgrades in West Ada, Wilson stressed. But discussions about growth — and how the district of some 40,000 students could address it — are far from new.
A June analysis from the district shows a tentative 10-year project timeline for districtwide updates, starting with construction of three elementary schools in the district’s north, west and south regions. The projected price tag in that report: over $334 million.
But a lot’s changed since April and June, Wilson said, including construction costs and an emergency legislative session earlier this month that funneled $410 million in new funding to K-12.
“We’re trying to plan and be strategic as possible about all of this,” Wilson said, stressing the need for community input and feedback from a district-hosted citizens’ group set to kick off conversations about facilities at the end of the month.
A bond issue to bankroll any projects would be funded by local property taxes and would need trustees’ approval. But what a measure could look like is still in the air, Wilson said. It could be a “one-swipe” approach, or an incremental approach with multiple ballot measures over time.
Bond issues in Idaho require two-thirds supermajority support from local voters to pass.