At the Dec. 15 Seaside School District board meeting, I requested and received from the board the budget for the recently approved $99.7 million school bond.
Before the bond election, I wrote an article that was published in the Seaside Signal and the Cannon Beach Gazette. It noted that high school building costs are presently running at a cost of $35,000 to $42,000 per student assuming no land cost. The Seaside district correctly revised its earlier plans and now will not replace Seaside Heights Elementary School, which houses 500 of the districts 1,500 student enrollment. That leaves a need to build new schools for 1,000 students which, based on current school projects, should cost about $40 million.
The Seaside School District is building schools for 1,280 students (not 1,000) even though school enrollment has been declining and the Cannon Beach charter school will draw away students. Seaside’s facility cost per student, per their estimate, is $82,000 and not the $37,000 to $45,000 that is the current, typical cost per Oregon student. The Seaside cost estimate assumes an average of 150 square feet per student and a cost per square foot of $255 (plus extra for coastal and foundation additions) for building construction costs. The real difference in Seaside’s numbers is in the site costs, which are over $10 million.
Two decisions by the school board made the school bond cost high: 1) the decision to build for a growth of 280 new students and 2) to incur significant site improvement costs to move the high school and middle school further up the hillside.
Given that school enrollment has been declining, the diversion of students into the charter school and any new growth in the area has been forecast by the State of Oregon as retirees, the argument to spend 280 times $82,000 or $23 million for growth seems like a loser. Also, it is quite feasible to locate a new middle school above the tsunami inundation line on the current district’s Seaside Heights site without having to incur the $10 million site development costs.
The district has already committed to using the athletic fields at Broadway Park for the high school. The existing Broadway Middle School could be made into a full high school. It could be brought up to seismic and almost new condition by adding labs, rebuilding and upgrading the gym and replacing inadequate roofing, electrical, plumbing, mechanical systems and windows for about half the cost of a new high school — a savings of about $20 million.
The tsunami safety requirement for schools is that the structures survive a 9.0 earthquake and that students be able to access high ground within 20 minutes. A rebuilt high school at the Broadway site with an adequate Wahanna Creek bridge would meet these requirements.
In addition to cost savings, high school traffic, which is considerable, would not have to use Spruce and Wahanna and would have better access to a signalized Highway 101 intersection. Also, with this solution for the high school, it would not be necessary to expand the growth boundary of Seaside, which means that construction could begin sooner and the district could avoid potential interest charges. It should be pointed out that approval for a growth boundary expansion is by no means a certainty. The rebuilt Broadway gym could serve in off-hours as a very useful community recreational facility.
So, if we eliminate the additional space for 280 unlikely to come new students that saves $23 million. If we eliminate the bulk of the site costs for going up the hill that saves $10 million and if we rebuild the Broadway facility instead of building a new high school that saves another $20 million. The $100 million bond now becomes $47 million. The saved taxpayer money of $50 million can now be used for seismically improving local bridges so that everyone can now escape a Cascadia tsunami; even the school kids who spent 71 percent of their time at home (probably in the tsunami inundation zone) rather than school.
It’s all very great to spend money but when you increase property taxes, the housing and rental costs go up, and with a minimum wage seasonal workforce, things just become worse.