Of the Keizertimes

If voters approve a $619.7 million Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) bond measure in May, improvements at McNary High School and Gubser Elementary School will be some of the first in the district to receive renovations and redesigns.

While those projects would be among the first to undergo construction, the bond plan includes improvements or maintenance projects at every school in SKSD.

As the second largest high school in the district, administrators have long planned for McNary to be near the top of the list, but Gubser was more of a surprise, said Superintendent Christy Perry.

“Gubser is one of the most overpopulated elementary schools right now. We tried placing an additional teacher there to help with class sizes, but there simply wasn’t enough space in the building,” Perry said.

There is still an additional teacher at Gubser, but they float throughout the building and assist where they are needed most, she said.

In that sense, improvements at Gubser – including three new classrooms, a dedicated cafeteria and kitchen and gym upgrades – will have the effect of lowering class sizes. That will not be the case for all schools, but bonds can only pay for capital improvement projects and not continuing budget items like teacher salaries. The latter funds are much more volatile and heavily dependent on state funding set by the Oregon Legislature.

The biggest single change district-wide, if the bond is approved by voters, will be increasing capacity at five of the six high schools to 2,200 students. At McNary, that will mean about 200 more students than are currently enrolled, but it will also mean that the portable classrooms some classes use will be replaced with permanent structures.

The bond will cost a homeowner $1.24 more per $1,000 of valuation than they currently pay. For a home valued at $200,000, that amounts to roughly $250 per year.

For the first time in decades, polling paid for by the district suggested taxpayers were amenable to an increase in what they pay for schools. Polls suggested comfort with $1.51 to $2.50, but the SKSD board went for an even lower amount. Polling also directed how the funds will be used, Perry said.

“What resonated in polling was career technical education (CTE) classrooms, safety and security, expansion of classrooms and seismic preparedness,” she said.

On the CTE end of things, each of the SKSD high schools will be getting two dedicated CTE spaces with the intention of establishing dedicated programming at each school based on desires and the local market needs.

“We have a coordinator for CTE programs and he’s put together an investment program for the next several years. We want to make sure that the schools understand what the students want and need,” said Mike Wolfe, the district’s chief operations officer.

While the new space will create opportunities for additional programs, it might mean that some current programs move within the schools.

“The culinary program at McNary is a great space that we’ve invested in through grants over several years. That might be a program that gets moved into one of the new CTE spaces and the existing space becomes an incubator for another CTE program,” Wolfe said.

The bond also includes funding for revamping and realigning existing spaces and specifically puts money toward music education space at every school.

The district is already assembling design teams for each school and will eventually enlist community representatives to serve on site teams if the bond passes. Those teams will hammer out specifics within the district’s overall design plans as the process moves forward.

In regard to safety and seismic concerns, several schools will be getting new card-access security systems and some front offices will be renovated or realigned with front entrances for optimal supervision of the school entries.

Many schools will receive seismic strengthening, but any new buildings constructed will be constructed for re-occupancy. That means new spaces will be built to withstand a catastrophic event and then be used as a shelter or headquarters for community recovery efforts.

“Every feeder system will have buildings to use for shelter in the event of a catastrophe like a major earthquake,” Perry said.

One of the biggest differences between this bond measure and the last one, for $242 million, approved by voters in 2008, is how the money will be used, Wolfe said. About $160 million of the 2008 total was used to catch up on deferred maintenance projects, but that process helped district administrators hone in on bond priorities this time around.

“We were able to become more familiar with our facilities through the implementation of the 2008 bond and we were able to focus on the future and meeting growth projections for the next 10 to 20 years,” Wolfe said.

“The district did a good job with that money as far as what was promised and what was delivered. My hope is that the process built trust  with voters as good stewards of public money,” Perry added.

At a glance: Keizer’s place in SKSD bond

McNary High

14 new classrooms

1 new science lab

2 career technical education spaces

Dedicated special education class space

A new flexible learning space

Replacement classrooms (13,700 sq. ft.)

Repurposed/renovated space for admin and support staff

Redesigned parking lot and additional parking

Purchase of additional property and relocating sports fields

Claggett Creek Creek Middle

Cafeteria expansion

Converting 3 classrooms into 2 science labs

Library upgrades

Gubser Elementary School

3 new classrooms

Dedicated cafeteria and kitchen

Gym upgrades

Keizer Elementary

4 new classrooms

Dedicated cafeteria and kitchen

Library upgrades

Cummings Elementary

Cafeteria expansion

Sidewalks along campus