Bond would address Touchet Secondary School needs

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Each classroom at Touchet Secondary has its own heat pump, a costly system that wastes energy, according to bond supporters.

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Superintendent Susan Bell notes the mold on the awnings.

TOUCHET — Touchet Secondary School has moss dripping from the awnings outside the building. There’s no insulation inside, so the sound of the school band practicing echoes down the halls and classrooms remain cold during the winter.

Flushing a toilet in any of the school bathrooms causes water to come up out of the drains on the floor. When it rains, Superintendent Susan Bell says water drips from the ceiling in front of the main office.

The 40-year-old building may have a chance for its first renovation if Touchet voters approve a $6.5 million bond in a special Feb. 12 election. The bond is eligible for $2.35 million in state matching funds, for a total project cost of $8.85 million.

The bond would pay for improved heating and electrical systems, including the addition of insulation to create a more energy-efficient building. The aging, mold-damaged roof would be replaced, along with the building’s outdated plumbing systems.

These structural improvements will cut maintenance costs by saving energy and reducing the amount spent on temporary repairs.

The Touchet Secondary School building was evaluated by the state Office of the Superindentent of Public Instruction in 2005 and received a failing grade of 43 out of 100. Bell said a renovation of the school is long overdue.

“It’s not that this project is, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice?’ We need to do this for our students and our community,” she said.

In addition to facility improvements, the bond would fund renovations of key learning spaces, including science and computer labs.

“We have to look at improving the instructional condition for another 30 years,” said Greg McCracken, the lead architect for the renovation design.

Touchet Secondary’s current classrooms were built in the 1970s, well before computers were a standard part of classroom instruction. McCracken explained that many of them are now too small to be effective in training students to enter the work force. The bond provides for improvements to lab and classroom spaces, as well as technology upgrades.

If approved, the 20-year bond will increase property tax rates by $1.66 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the owner of a $100,000 home, that would amount to $166 per year, or $13.83 a month.

The current school district tax rate is $3.24 per $1,000 of assessed value, from a school operations levy passed in 2010. The levy is up for renewal in the Feb. 12 election.

If both the bond and the levy pass, the total school tax rate will be $4.90 per $1,000.

The renovation is almost entirely within the school’s existing footprint. McCracken said the project focused on meeting needs without being too flashy.

“We try to be good stewards of taxpayers dollars,” he said.

To pass, the bond requires a supermajority of 60 percent plus one vote. In addition, 40 percent of voters from the November 2012 election must cast a ballot for the Feb. 12 results to be valid.

Bell said the project would benefit the entire community, because many local groups hold meetings and events on school grounds. Though they have a separate building, elementary students often come to the high school for band and art classes, and would benefit from the improvements as well.

“The school district is the largest employer in the area,” she said. “A lot of our staff are Touchet grads. There’s a lot of pride.”

Ballots for the bond special election have been mailed to voters and must be postmarked by Feb. 12.

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