Idaho Falls (Idaho Ed News) — The Idaho Falls school district’s $250 million application for new and upgraded facilities is “much asking,” trustee Hilary Radcliffe admitted on Wednesday.
This is a state record for school bond issuance.
But it’s also a long way off, said Radcliffe, who leads the board’s community efforts on retention. “There is a need.”
Last month, in a November 8 vote, Radcliffe and other trustees unanimously voted to take action — a call for local property owners to build a new Idaho Falls High School, two elementary schools and an upgrade to Skyline High School.
The motion revitalizes the district’s failed attempts to modernize its legacy schools in 2017 and 2018.
But this time everything is different. The cost of two planned elementary schools and skyscrapers has pushed taxpayer inquiries into unprecedented territory. The new price, more than double what the district has failed to achieve in recent years, has raised eyebrows — and set the stage for a pushback.
“I don’t know where to start. (The amount) is just so ridiculous,” said Lisa Keller, a spokeswoman for D91 Taxpayers, a local civic group that has challenged both of the district’s previous requests for upgrades.
But the clock is ticking and the need for more space is growing, said Idaho Falls High School principal Chris Powell, who took EdNews on Wednesday on a tour of his school, which is overflowing with hundreds of students. “We have to do something.”
The price of the upgrade has more than doubled since 2017
In 2017, Idaho Falls issued a bond to rebuild Idaho Falls High School and remodel Skyline High School along with other upgrades.
Price tag back then: cool $110 million.
The measure drew strong backlash from D91 taxpayers and failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to issue the bond in Idaho. Therefore, in 2018, the trustees reduced an offer of $82.6 million, with an optional $13.3 million “tier” measure to build a $9.8 million performing arts center in Skyline and a $3.5 million “Gymatorium” at Idaho Falls High.
With only 58% support – and persistent resistance – the second attempt failed.
After four years and a global pandemic, Idaho Falls has revived efforts. But the necessary modernizations, as seen by the district, have only expanded. And the cost has only gone up, the new measure Idaho has never seen before.
Growth forecasts prompt renewed efforts – and price hikes
From 2017 to 2020, the district’s enrollment actually declined from 10,257 to 10,005, state enrollment numbers show. But last year, amid the housing boom, that number rose to 10,092.
More development is on the way, with at least seven of Idaho Falls’ 18 schools turning 100 in five years, according to the district’s Master Facility Plan, which indicates a steady increase in single-family home permits since 2014. % is expected to be occupied with several development parcels located north and south of Idaho Falls.
An aging Idaho Falls high school, already operating at 141% occupancy, has felt the brunt of recent growth. Last year, Idaho Falls High enrolled 1,299 students. This year: 1,414.
According to the district’s facility plan, Skyline High is at 118% occupancy, with projected growth increasing to 121% over the next five years.
Add to that the two proposed elementary schools to alleviate overcrowding and head-scratching inflation for building materials in recent years, and a new measure to reduce overcrowding in four of the district’s 12 elementary schools.
Here’s a snapshot of the key costs and upgrades of the current measure:
- $118.8 million for a new 1,800-student, 258,208-square-foot Idaho Falls high school. A school of similar size will cost $72.1 million in 2018, according to a cost summary forecast on the district’s website.
- $71.4 million for renovations and additions to Skyline High School, which will also bring the school to a capacity of 1,800 students. In 2017, similar updates will cost about $44.8 million, according to the same cost overview forecast.
- $53.9 million for two new elementary schools, each equipped for more than 600 students. A school will accept students on the south side of the Idaho Falls. The second will replace Temple View Elementary School, located on the north side of the precinct. In 2012 and 2013, the district built four new elementary schools at an average cost of $11.5 million per school.
The summary forecast comes with a caveat: costs may be “significantly higher” than stated depending on market changes.
The Idaho Falls School District and its patrons have expressed concern about the aging Idaho Falls High School for years, but delivering a bond to upgrade the fund has been a struggle. , Devin Bodkin, Idaho Ed News
‘It’s not big enough’
District leaders aren’t the only ones pushing for a major action proposal to replace Idaho Falls High.
Of the 2,989 respondents in a recent district poll, 64% supported rebuilding the school, poll results showed, while 36% supported renovating the school to its current location. Eighty percent of respondents support moving a new Idaho Falls high school to a county-owned location at 49th Street and Holmes Avenue when the school rebuilds.
For Powell, the Idaho Falls problem boils down to lack of space.
“It’s just not big enough,” he said.
Idaho Falls doesn’t use hallways or staff rooms for classrooms like this Middleton school, Powell acknowledged, but pointed to several areas of concern:
- Classrooms, bathrooms, and extracurricular spaces are cramped for the school’s more than 1,400 students. A science lab that four teachers must reserve for lab time impacts student instruction by forcing teachers to schedule them around each other.
- Four modular units, purchased two years ago, house classrooms in the former teachers’ car park at the back of the school. Buses are housed in an old shop, and when it rains, hardly any water gets under the doors. Other classes meet in the temporary classroom under the soccer stadium.
- The city-owned Idaho Falls Civic Auditorium is attached to the north end of the school. The district uses the classroom behind the auditorium, Powell said, but the city “wants it back.” Also on the school side are the toilets of the auditorium, which bring people into the building for after-school community events. A barricade keeps them close to the restrooms, but the arrangement still worries Powell.
- Small enrollment corridors keep students side by side near the reception office on the school’s main street, eliminating safety concerns and making hall surveillance a difficult task for teachers.
For Powell, the arrangements are problematic, but previous measures have raised questions about how under pressure they really are.
Radcliffe stressed that outreach this time around will include school visits to allow patrons to make their own decisions.
Powell points to a strict hiring policy in a science class at Idaho Falls High School. , Devin Bodkin, Idaho Ed News
The possible impact of the measure on taxpayers is still unclear.
The district is still awaiting a county assessment to determine how much the $250 million measure will impact local taxpayers.
In Idaho, homeowners issue bonds through their estate taxes. However, because market values vary from district to district, some communities can take better action than others to lessen the blow to homes and businesses.
Districts often provide estimates of impact per $100,000 of taxable value. When county numbers are calculated, Idaho Falls spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne said the district will provide a tool on its website for conservators to see how much they will pay if the measure is passed.
Idaho law also requires districts to all spend $100,000 on voting.
Still, Keller said the sticker shock was already evident.
“(Amount) is just unmusical,” she said, adding that her group did not officially meet to discuss the official position on the measure. But he expects that to happen in the coming months.
Other parishioners begin to get involved. Former Idaho Falls City Councilman Larry Lyons, who publicly opposed the district’s previous ties, echoed Keller’s concerns: “We all want great schools for our children, but this new demand is an amazing new one. There are taxes. I think there is no way to come over in November.”
Radcliffe expressed hope: “I think it has a chance.”