Cost of Highland's school improvement project increases

Tax increase now a possibility

RIVERSIDE — When the final estimates on the projects the Highland School District plans to hold a bond referendum for were received, they were about $350,000 greater than the previous estimates, leaving the ability to do the projects without a property tax increase in question.

The Highland School Board approved putting a total of $3.7 million on the petition for the bond referendum, up from the $3.2 million that was initially discussed when the bond issue was first introduced. The board was given the new set of estimates after the beginning its regular meeting Monday, April 8, as the final estimates had only arrived in the district earlier in the afternoon. The next step in the process is to have a petition written up with the new total on it to add the bond referendum to the ballot. A draft of the petition will be given to the school board during its May meeting for approval. Once the needed number of residents sign the petition, the issue will be on the August ballot.

“I’m not sure that we won’t have a tax increase at this point,” district consultant Mike Jorgensen told the board. “We still have to run the numbers.”

He said if a tax increase is needed for the referendum, it would not be much. He said the increase may be 10 cents per $1,000 of taxable valuation. Superintendent Ken Crawford commented this would still be a much lower tax rate than the district has had in the past. Property tax rates in the district were $16 per $1,000 of taxable valuation four years ago, and were $13.19 this year. The coming year’s budget shows the rate will drop another 10 cents per $1,000.

The majority of the increase came from fluctuating costs in the project to resurface the Highland Elementary School playground and from an addition to the project that would replace windows in the high school building. The board voted to include the windows project Monday, feeling it would be less costly to add to the ongoing construction than doing it as a separate project.

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. The main Highland building, that includes the middle school and the high school, has been added onto 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. The projected cost is $2.1 million.

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.