Crook County schools need attention

John Sundell /


Published Apr 7, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

A 2006 study by Dull Olson architects identified more than $30 million in needed renovation projects throughout the Crook County School District. No action was taken due to the recession. By 2012, an updated study by BLRB architects concluded the total need had grown to more than $40 million. If nothing is done in 2013, that total will continue to grow.

In 1994, Crook County voters passed a bond of $20 million, $14 million of which was used to build the high school. In 2011, Redmond completed its Ridgeview High School at a cost of $65 million. Cost inflation is a fact of life.

The 1994 Crook County schools bond will be fully repaid by February 2014. The proposed bond is structured to avoid an increase in tax rate. That is, no change in expected tax rate. The current rate (about $1.03 per $100,000 assessed value) is, by far, the lowest school bond rate in Central Oregon.

The proposed bond includes $18.5 million for replacement of the Ochoco and Crooked River Elementary Schools. The Facilities Review Committee first looked at renovating instead of replacing. The cost of renovating was close to the cost of replacing. But renovation would only provide another 15 years of useful life.

A replacement school should last at least 60 years. There are other benefits: lower operating costs (utilities and insurance); a school with space designed to modern standards (more small group learning); a school with better safety/security (no multiple points of entry, as currently exist); and a school located in a neighborhood setting (IronHorse) instead of being adjacent to a busy highway. The new school would be designed with “wings/pods” to maintain a “small school feeling.” Economic reality dictates replacing the two schools with one larger school.

The proposed bond also includes $15 million in renovation projects. Excluding the renovation projects the architects had initially proposed for Ochoco and Crooked River elementary schools, the total recommended was more than $30 million. After reviewing more than 350 separate projects, the review committee reduced the total to $15 million. This was not an easy task: The real need is the $30 million-plus, but the school board wanted to avoid increasing the tax rate. The $15 million is viewed as an acceptable compromise.

The proposed renovations address needs at all the other district facilities. Technology and security upgrades, as well as more basics such as electrical, plumbing, flooring and roofs, are all addressed. Operational savings at the new school, as well as proceeds from any future sale of the two schools being replaced, can be used to pay for additional renovations not included in the bond.

Apart from direct benefits to the community’s children, other benefits include providing jobs to local contractors during construction and improving the community’s attractiveness to new employers.

It’s been 19 years since the last CCSD construction bond. More than half of CCSD’s schools are more than 50 years old. The need is real. Interest rates on municipal bonds are currently at their lowest levels in 40 years. CCSD is able to borrow at these low rates only because the State of Oregon provides a “AA-rated” guarantee. Given the State of Oregon’s own fiscal challenges, who knows how long such a guarantee will be available? More bluntly, if an investment to update the community’s school facilities is not made now, then when?

The old Fram Oil filter commercial said, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later.” Today’s version would say, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me a lot more later.”

Additional information about the bond can be found at CCSD’s website: crookcounty.k12.or.us