ILWACO - The school board worked quickly Wednesday night and the motion passed unanimously, as it accepted a bond amount of $23 million dollars to be voted on by the public in May.

After a work session the night before, hammering out numbers and figures that would forge the final amount to be used in the school bond election May 20, the Ocean Beach School District Board of Directors settled on an amount similar to the past two attempts - but this time with the lowest tax impact on district area residents.

"We crunched a lot of numbers, got input from staff, had a presentation from Seattle Northwest Securities about selling bonds, and tonight we're going to make some decisions," said board chairman Ed Guelfi.

The project will be broken up into two phases. The first, to be voted on in May, will feature the bond amount that would cover the cost to remodel, modernize, and reconfigure the grade structure at the two elementaries and Hilltop School. The duration of the bond is set for 20 years. The second phase, the timing for which would be determined at a later date, would pay for Ilwaco High School modernization.

Guelfi explained why the high school was left out of this bond vote.

"We looked at how far out the high school would be [in terms of when that phase of the project would start], to try and make a big project plan of the high school at this point would be difficult," he said. "Once phase one is completed, they might find other needs or issues at the high school."

The district now will work with a monetary securities company to draft resolution language to be given to Pacific County for use in the bond election. The resolution will be presented to the board for adoption at this month's regular school board meeting, March 24.

If passed, district taxpayers would be responsible for an additional $1.52 per $1,000 of accessed property value per year. This is the lowest amount ever attached to a bond attempt by OBSD.

"Because of the assessed evaluation of property in this area and the current interest rates, this is a great time to do it," said Guelfi. "And $1.52 per $1,000 is pretty amazing for $23 million."

For example, if you own a $100,000 home, your tax amount would increase by $152 per year. This is added to the current total owed per year, which many people make payments on or save ahead of time.

Currently the OBSD has no debt that taxpayers are paying for. They do pay the annual maintenance and operation levy rate, which is at $1.87 per $1,000. OBSD is the only school district in the immediate area that isn't currently paying for a bond.

The percentage per $1,000 projected by OBSD would also be the lowest among these other districts. Neighboring Raymond school district property owners are paying $3.53 per $1,000 for their M&O levy and $3.60 per $1,000 for their bond.

Guelfi added OBSD's $1.52 is still an estimate at this point and suggested that it could change by a penny or two one way or the other.

"They have to estimate it because it's based on interest rates and they didn't know where they're going to go. If they stay where they are right now, it will actually be a little less," he said.

If the bond passes, the tax percentage will be set and will stay at that amount for the 20-year life of the bond. It cannot change even if interest rates go up. But it also will not go down if interest rates drop.

"We have gotten counsel that says it's better to make it stable," said Guelfi. "You try to make it a flat thing across its duration, people seem to like that a lot better."

Interest rates are currently the lowest they have been in 42 years.

Removing the high school from the first phase will save an estimated $13.6 million. OBSD also reduced the cost of the other buildings by 10 percent to cut the first estimated bond price tag from $37.5 million to $23 million.

"We're going to let the architects figure out exactly where those decreases are going to be," said Guelfi, who added there won't be any specific changes made to the building plans until after the election. "There will be a need for the high school in the future. We thought it would be very difficult to make a rock solid plan for the high school that wouldn't start for six years."

Even though the high school will not see any work done to the building at this time, it will be gaining something - over 9,000 square feet currently occupied by the junior high grades that would move into the renovated Hilltop building that would become a middle school as part of the grade reconfiguration.

The attempt in 1997 was the closest the district has come to passing a school bond since the one passed in the late 1960s that built Ilwaco High School. A 53 percent yes vote wasn't enough due to the requirement of a super-majority vote - 60 percent - to pass a school bond measure. The cost of the bond in 1997 was $19.6 million, at a rate of $2.09 per $1,000, and was to build one central elementary and middle school.

"It was going to be big," said Guelfi. "It was going to be a K through eight."

The most recent attempt, in 1999, had a bond amount set at $21.8 million, with $1.74 per $1,000. This one planned for improvements to the high school, Chinook School, IHS stadium and much more.

"It was very broad and it was going to touch a little bit of everything," said Guelfi.

That bond failed badly, with only a 42 percent yes vote.

Guelfi said this time around the plan is much less complicated and more condensed as to what they would be doing.

"We're actually going to have three new buildings," he said. "I'll say it, we're going to have three new buildings. We say modernization and renovation, but that's tearing it right down to the bare stud and if that studs junk, they're tearing it out too. You're going to walk in those [buildings] and not know where the old building ends and the new building begins."

At this point, the torch is passed to the Citizens for Better Education, a group tasked with getting out information to voters about the bond. Garnette Sutherland is the chairperson for that organization.

"We're just going to get the word out," she said. "We're going to work closely with the district and make sure all the information is accurate. Get it out to the people so they can ask questions, get the answers that they need."

Sutherland said she was happy about the proposed figures given by the board.

"[I'm] elated. I think this is a package that the community is able to pass. It's school improvements that are much needed in the right areas," she said. "We're not looking to build castles, just safety issues, modernizing, so that we're in step with other school districts."

The CFBE meets every week and will begin going door to door and setting up some phone banks to get information out to people. They also plan on offering rides to people who can't otherwise make it to the polls on election day.

"This is just the best time to go for this," said Sutherland.

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