Economy could see benefits if school bonds pass

The Feb. 13 Special Election ballot asks Clark County residents to vote on three school bonds

School rendering
Courtesy of Evergreen Public Schools. This rendering shows what the new elementary school design template might look like for the elementary schools that will be replaced in the Evergreen School District if their bond passes.

Three school bonds in the Feb. 13 Special Election, if they pass, could bode well for Clark County’s growing economy.

The bonds for Evergreen, Battle Ground and La Center schools will improve existing facilities, phase out some older schools, create a handful of new schools and update technology infrastructure so students can better compete in the modern economy. The projects, slated to take about six years to complete, could lead to an even bigger construction boom than the county is already experiencing. And the efforts also dovetail nicely with the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s (CREDC) push to recruit new software, manufacturing and other high tech companies to the area, said Mike Bomar, president of the organization.

“Employers thinking about an area want to know, does the community support their schools?” Bomar said. “It’s not just about workforce training, it’s also quality of life. Companies want to move to communities that invest in themselves.”

Many schools in the county were built before the rise of the internet and Wi-Fi. Evergreen still uses 365 portable buildings as classrooms, some of which were purchased in the 1980s and 1990s, said Gail Spolar, a spokeswoman for the Evergreen School System.

“School productivity, if we can get these new support staff and facilities, will be greatly improved,” Spolar said.

That improvement spans beyond better wireless connections for students and their school computers. Technological improvements can also reduce costs for things like lighting and facilities’ costs like keys, Spolar said.

“When you look at some of these improved systems, like electronic key entry, you save money because you aren’t constantly checking out keys that people can lose, or having to re-key the entire building,” she said.

Energy efficiency can also save schools money. Clark PUD recently gave Evergreen a $90,000 rebate for work switching out school parking lights to more efficient models. The move should save Evergreen about $32,000 a year and is just a small example of how technology investment can save budget costs in the long term, Spolar said.

“All of those prices, when you start upgrading, have a way of coming down,” she said.

Work on the schools should also create more construction employment in Clark County – along with work in several trade sectors.

“If the bond passes and we’re building a number of schools, clearly that is a construction economic boom in the county,” Spolar said. “We anticipate six years of construction, along with lots of upgrades to existing schools. Painting, carpeting, HVAC systems, security and all of that – that itself is a boost.”

Specifics of each bond on the Feb. 13 ballot

The Special Election ballots were due to arrive on Feb. 1, and are due by Feb. 13. Ballots include four propositions: A Camas tax levy for emergency medical services and the three bond issues.

The bonds are as follows:

La Center School District No. 101, Proposition 1 would create a $43 million bond to construct a new middle school and convert existing facilities. This includes construction of a new middle school and conversion of the city’s existing middle school into an elementary school.

Battle Ground School District No. 119, Proposition 3 would create a $225 million bond ($224,895,000 specifically) to construct, replace and renovate school facilities and improve safety. This includes replacing old schools with a new primary and middle school, replacing select buildings at Prairie High School and renovating Amboy’s gym. The city is also looking at developing an alternative learning campus.

Evergreen School District No. 114, Proposition 2 would create a $695 million bond to construct and improve school facilities. This includes replacing about half of the system’s 365 portable buildings with permanent facilities, construction of a new elementary school, replacement or renovation of several other schools and upgrades to facility infrastructure like phones and internet.

New magnet school possible for Evergreen School District

The possibility of a new magnet school is also something that has business leaders excited.

Henrietta Lacks High School, a life sciences and biosciences magnet, is a great example of a school working with industry to fill the worker pipeline and provide high tech skills to students, Bomar said.

“That’s been really key to show off for people coming to the area,” Bomar said. “Banfield Pet Hospital was interested in that, not just for staff but also as a school for their kids.”

A new magnet school is being discussed at Evergreen right now, although the scope of its focus hasn’t been determined yet, Spolar said.

“The idea is to work with the business community and our partners to see what that next specialty school to meet our needs should be,” Spolar said.

Bomar said he’s been interested in an arts and innovation magnet school that could work with the booming software sector.

“It compliments software tools used for a whole host of things,” Bomar said. “It really compliments a lot of the new businesses coming to downtown Vancouver.”

Computer programming is likely to be a stable career well into the future. And programming automated machinery could end up a big part of that, he said.

“The software coding side and hardware manufacturing have come together really well here, and that’s backed up by the data,” Bomar said. “There’s a lot more problem solving in automation than the traditional view of manufacturing.”

Clark County’s student population is also expected to grow between 3 percent and 10 percent over the next decade, so improving school infrastructure now will help meet that growing demand in the future, Spolar said.

“Some of our elementary schools are so large, they’re at 750 students,” Spolar said. “We’d like to get the capacity in older schools down to 500.”

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