Highland bond referendum moves forward

GTNS photo by David Hotle

The Highland School District is expectged to include a bond referendum for around $2.7 million onto the August ballot for improvements to its climate systems.
GTNS photo by David Hotle The Highland School District is expectged to include a bond referendum for around $2.7 million onto the August ballot for improvements to its climate systems.

RIVERSIDE — Among the main selling points of a proposed bond referendum to improve the Highland School District’s environmental control systems is the idea that district residents won’t see an increase in property taxes as a result.

Highland consultant Mike Jorgensen explained property taxes in the Highland district have been dropping for the last several years. The exact amount of the bond has not been determined, but estimates are in the range of $2.7 million. With property values on the rise due to new construction and the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, which is in the district, coming off its tax incentive program this year, Jorgensen predicts taxpayers will still see a rate decline. Property tax rates in the district were $16 per $1,000 of taxable valuation four yeas ago, and were $13.19 this year. The coming year’s budget shows the rate will drop another 10 cents per $1,000. A rough estimate is that the bond referendum would add about 25 cents to the declining tax rate. The bond is expected to be paid off within seven years.

The bond discussion began after the district received a grant to upgrade the climate controls at the elementary school building. As a follow-up, the district’s building committee ordered a study of the middle school/high school building. The study showed the need for a new climate system.

“We have some rooms that in the middle of winter they have to open their windows because it is so hot and we have other rooms during the warmer months, when the air conditioning is on, the kids have to wear coats because it is so cold in their rooms,” Jorgensen said. “Obviously it isn’t very efficient.”

The main Highland building that includes the middle school and the high school has been added on-to four times. During each of the additions, a different heating/cooling system was used. While the district has a computerized system that is trying to assign a certain temperature, the different systems don’t communicate. He said some rooftop units are in use and some are ventilators. Some rooms have window air units.

According to the plan, one rooftop HVAC system would be installed. Each room would have its own controls for temperature. It would also provide air conditioning to such places as the gym, which currently doesn’t have any kind of climate control.

“As any parent who has been to graduation in the gym knows,” Jorgensen said.

The HVAC system for the building is expected to cost around $2.3 million. Jorgensen said students have also shown the district would save that amount of money with the more efficient system within eight years.

While the bond issue was initially brought to the Highland School Board as a way to address the school’s climate control systems, two other projects also will be funded with the bond. The 10,360 square feet of playground at the Highland Elementary School will be resurfaced with a rubber shock absorbing surface and the high school’s fine arts department will be expanded to include more storage.

The parent-teacher group at the elementary school had been in the process of raising funds for the new surface, expected to cost around $200,000. The playground currently has mulch. The new surface would be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. Jorgensen said the district is requesting a Washington County Riverboat Foundation grant to help pay for the surface and the remainder will be included in the bond issue.

The fine arts department at the high school only has a closet for storage. Jorgensen said there is an area behind the fine arts room that can be built onto that would provide more storage for the department. Also, the district plans to use an unused part of a locker room for additional storage. The approximate cost is about $200,000.

Jorgensen said the building committee has already approached the school board about holding the referendum. The next step would be for the committee to circulate a petition to put the issue on the August ballot. The exact number of signatures has not been determined yet, but Jorgensen believes it won’t be more than 100.