It took a couple tries, but the $150 million construction bond to support Renton School District has now been officially approved by voters.
King County Elections certified the May 20 election results last week.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” said Dr. Mary Alice Heuschel, Renton School District superintendent. “It’s just a reflection of the support the Renton community gives to public education. It’s fabulous. It’s the reason I love my job.”
The measure was approved by 61.67 percent of voters. A 60-percent supermajority was required. Just over 16,000 people cast ballots, or about 31 percent of registered voters. About 3,200 more voters cast a ballot in May than during the March 11 election, when the district was short by just 78 “yes” votes. Seventy-one percent more voters voted “yes” in May than March.
“It is really good to see these numbers of voters increase the way they did,” said Randy Matheson, district spokesperson.
Especially when other school districts failed to pass similar bonds. Of 15 Washington school districts, Renton was one one of the few successes.
The success is good, critical, Heuschel says. But the work is just beginning. Bonds must be sold, construction planned and sent out for bids. It will take months to get through these processes, Matheson says.
“That’s why the community normally doesn’t see any changes for at least a year,” he said. “There’s a lot of work being done. You just don’t see machinery out there digging holes for almost a year.”
The district’s construction manager presented a preliminary construction plan to staff last Wednesday. The plan prioritized a list of projects proposed by a committee of parents, staff, teachers, school board and community members. The plan includes proposed starting dates for these projects between 2009 and 2014.
Topping the list of 2009 projects are a new wing of 10 classrooms at Hazen High School and track and field upgrades at Hazen and Lindbergh high schools and Renton Stadium. Security, energy and interior work are also priorities.
Construction of a new secondary learning center at Black River High School’s campus is tentatively planned for 2010, and an early childhood center, likely at Sartori Education Center, for 2011.
But none of these projects, or their timings, is finalized. Finances need to be figured out, committees formed at each school and meetings held.
“This is the initial look at this list,” Matheson said. “… The first look at it on the day the bond passed.”
What won’t change is the $150 million figure. The district’s finance department is now working on selling the bond, likely to banks. The district plans to sell the bond in packages, the first probably about $75 million to $100 million.
Property taxes will repay the bond, over 20 years.
Selling the bond, collecting the taxes and making school improvements is a complex process. But a critical process.
“It’s absolutely critical,” Heuschel said. “For growth, for meeting the needs for all of the steps for 21st-century learning. It is critical. If this had not gone through, we would have had to regroup and come up with another strategy, and probably at a higher cost to taxpayers.”
An initial look at projects planned for 2009
• A new wing of 10 classrooms at Hazen High School.
• Kitchen improvements at Dimmitt and Nelsen middle schools and Hazen and Lindbergh high schools.
• Safety and security: Fire alarms systems, emergency communication systems, access controls, accessibility for students with disabilities, sidewalk improvements and fencing at various schools.
• Energy Conservation: Upgrade boilers and burners, lighting at various schools.
• Track and field upgrades at Hazen and Lindbergh high schools and Renton Stadium.