Ocosta School District voters are being asked to decide whether to build a new replacement for the district’s only elementary school through a proposed $13.8 million capital facilities bond.
The elementary school, or “round” building, was determined to have the highest need for replacement after a March 2008 survey of district buildings found the grade school — built in 1967 — to be “past the point of repair. “
The new structure will also act as a tsunami refuge for the public. District officials say the campus is positioned in a more central and slightly higher elevation than other options. Currently, no other Westport structure can be used as a temporary tsunami refuge or shelter. The building will be built with seismic enhancements, strengthened foundation and framing, and second floor and rooftop access in case of emergency.
Voters turned down a couple of earlier options. This one is $10.5 million less than the first of two previously voted on proposals on the matter in 2009. It would bring the current school district tax rate from $2.16 to $3.31 per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $331 per year in school taxes. By comparison, the tax rate in the Raymond district is at $7.50 and Oakville at $1.81. The projected state funding assistance is $2.8 million dollars. The number was decided upon by a Facilities Advisory Committee for the district that reconvened and focused on only “urgent needs,” according to the Ocosta District Superintendent Paula Akerlund.
In addition to replacement of the existing “round” elementary school building, the funds also will “modernize” the existing elementary school addition, said Akerlund. It would eliminate existing elementary “portables” that were intended to be temporary, but have been in place for more than 20 years and now appear fragile with shaky and sunken-in walls and siding and leaky roofs.
The round building also has multiple leak problems, with certain rooms closed off and molding and odor issues as a result.
The absence of a sprinkler system, antiquated electrical and heating systems, poor natural lighting, and a need for both better accesses for those with disabilities—or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upgrades—also are cause for replacement, bond supporters say.
Ocosta Elementary School Principal Heather Sweet said that while teachers currently use what they can to the best of their abilities, they need these changes in order to keep up with ever evolving — and even basic — technology needs.
“They aren’t spoiled, they do what they need to do,” she said. Some teachers have added lamps to combat the lack of natural light and most have used creativity in extension cord placement in rooms with a lack of a decent number of outlets, for example.
The round building, at capacity with 333 students, now 21 more than that currently enrolled. The new building will eliminate the need for portables, but also will create space in many other needed ways. Currently, Ocosta elementary students are transferred to another building between the elementary school and high school for their gym classes due to the current gym space being used as a breakfast and lunch area.
“Sometimes they even have to be bused because the weather is so bad,” said Akerlund, who also pointed out insufficient space in the current kitchen and library spaces; both will be larger in the new building.
A Washington State University (WSU) Social and Economic Sciences Center survey conducted at no cost to the district, found that the newest bond proposal is in favorable standing, with more than 70 percent of the 113 community members surveyed in “strong support” of the construction of a new elementary building.
Ballots must be postmarked or dropped off by Tuesday, April 23, at the Auditor’s Office in Montesano or the 24-hour drive up box.