Ballots for Othello school bond mailed this week

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OTHELLO — Ballots will be mailed this week for a special election to approve or reject a $61.4 million construction bond proposal from the Othello School District.

The bond would pay for a new elementary school, Othello’s fifth, and a second middle school. The bond also would pay for upgrades and expansion at Othello High School.

Total project cost is estimated at $76.3 million. The district is eligible for school construction money from the state, an estimated $14.9 million. Estimates of state funding were scrambled by the controversy surrounding the 2017-19 capital budget, which wasn’t approved until last week.

Brian Bodah, the district’s executive director of business services, said the estimated amount of state construction money for the project – if the bond passes – didn’t change.

If the bond is approved, property owners would pay an estimated 96 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. If the levy is approved, the owner of property worth $200,000 would pay $192 per year for the bond.

The bond would be split into two projects, with the elementary school and middle school first. In part that’s because the district cannot sell all the bonds at once. State law limits school districts on the amount of debt they can take on at any given time, and Othello is still paying for previous construction bonds.

The new elementary and middle schools would be built on district-owned property at Lee Road and 14th Street. The design process won’t begin until after the bond is approved, said district superintendent Chris Hurst.

The elementary and middle schools would have a capacity of about 700 students, but because there’s no design yet, it’s still to be determined how many of those kids would go to each school. The tentative plan is for the two schools to share some common space, including the cafeteria and gyms. The bond also includes an auditorium at the new elementary-middle schools, seating about 400.

The design process for the elementary and middle schools would begin in 2018, if the bond passes, and is expected to take about a year. Construction is projected to take about two years, and the buildings are expected to open for classes in 2021.

Hurst said at the Jan. 22 Othello School Board meeting that there was some confusion about the high school project.

Othello High School would be expanded to house 500 additional students (1,500 students total) and would receive extensive upgrades, Hurst said. The expanded OHS will include another gym and a new auditorium.

If the bond is approved, the high school design would phase would begin in 2019. Construction should take about three years, with completion projected for 2023.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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