School board will issue 2020 bond to make up for cost overruns and finish Benson

PHOTO: SARAH HARRINGTON - The current Lincoln High School will remain in use as the new one is built, then students will switch in 2022. The Portland Public Schools Board will have an audit conducted of the process by which its budget for the 2017 school buildings went over proposals by 35 percent.

Claire Hertz of PPS and Carol Samuels of Piper Jaffray said a request for a Performance Auditing Contract was out and that it would report by March 31, 2019.

Voters were told the cost to rebuild Madison, Lincoln and Benson Polytechnic high schools, Kellogg Middle School and $150 million of "health and safety" work would be $790 million. Overages on the high school rebuilds have accounted for much of the estimated budget woes.

At its board meeting Tuesday night, Aug. 28, PPS accountants said the amount raised by the 2017 bond could total $844.7 million, and the projects would cost $977 million, a negative gap of $132 million.

They said they could move $11 million from middle school conversions and raise more in a future bond measure to be voted on in 2020 and issued in early 2021. This third school bond authorization would raise $750 million and is part of a plan to spend $3.57 billion on modernizing all Portland schools through 2047. It could even raise as much as $860 million if market conditions are right.

The Benson Tech rebuild would have to be staggered over the two bond measures.

Rising construction costs were briefly touched on as the cause for the runaway budget, but PPS accountants set about showing how they could bring in more money in the future.

Samuels also explained to the board that Moody's, the national rating agency, rates Portland's bonds a safe bet, making them attractive to investors. Portland Public Schools benefits from a low-debt burden.

She said that even keeping steady the property tax rate of $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, more revenue would be raised as new properties are built as the construction and population booms continue. PPS has conservatively estimated assessed home value would raise 3 percent per year, when in reality it has hit 5 percent.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - At its board meeting Tuesday night, Aug. 28, PPS accountants said the amount raised by the 2017 bond could total $844.7 million, and the projects would cost $977 million, a negative gap of $132 million.

Board member Julia Brim-Edwards cautioned that homeowners already feel overtaxed, but Samuels said Portland's taxes were high compared to other Oregon school districts but not to other states, where school building has kept pace with technology and the economy.

Board member Scott Bailey warned that the board and its architects would need to start looking at cost savings.

Cards dealt The Lincoln High School Master Plan was voted on, 7-0 in favor. Designers from Bora Architects explained some of the value engineering ideas they have added lately to save money.

These include:

  • The makerspace and theater shops sharing a space.

  • Wrestling and yoga/dance sharing a space.

  • The partner health program sharing space with a general education space.

  • The indoor running track will be included in designs for now but could ultimately be cut, with a decision coming in November.

  • Nixing the theater tower, a tall space above the theater stage where tall scenery is flown, but usually only for musicals.

  • Joining the library classroom to a general education classroom.

    They also dropped the idea of a heat-exchange mechanism with the underground Tanner Creek because it turns out the water flow is too weak.

    One board member nervously asked if there would be enough classroom space for 1,700 students to be in class 70 percent of the time. The answer was yes.

    Architects said that, by request of the student body, there would be gender-inclusive restrooms, single-use restrooms and gendered restrooms.

    And a special education classroom would be increased from 600 square feet to 930 square feet, in line with general education classrooms.

    Board member Paul Anthony ended with a special plea that the architects save the theater tower, since musical theater is educational and learning to operate scenery can lead to good jobs in the local economy.

    The theater fly tower would be $1.5 million and the architects are designing the space both with and without it so that the board can decide in November whether or not to cut it.

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