A replacement building for Hailey Elementary School highlights the wish list for the Blaine County School District’s Finance Committee as it works through its charge of identifying potential infrastructure projects in advance of the district’s expected pitch for a new plant facilities levy sometime next year.
The committee has met a dozen times since October, touring every school to draft and prioritize the district’s physical needs. So far, it’s come up with around 100 projects—though none would match the possible $16.25 million price-tag pinned to the potential 65,000-square-foot construction.
“It’s the most significant question we’re considering,” Trustee Kevin Garrison, the sole school board member of the Finance Committee said in an interview. “Personally, I think it’s necessary. That school is an absolute mess. It’s a big deal—and I think it’s time we deal with it.”
The committee is still in the “prioritization phase,” Garrison said, though he hopes to present a recommendation to the full board—including a suggested dollar figure for the levy request—in September.
“We’re getting really, really close,” he said. “Looking at where we are, the good thing is we don’t think we’ll need as much money as we asked for last time.”
He was referring to the current plant and facilities levy, which after 10 years will expire following the 2019-20 school year. In 2018, voters opted to split that $5.98 million total in half, creating a reduced plant facilities levy to cover construction, maintenance and technology and a new supplemental levy to address a shortfall in the district’s general fund, worth just under $3 million each.
“We’re going to have to go to the public next year,” said committee member and former County Commissioner Len Harlig. “Otherwise, we won’t be able to run the district. It’s not a question of if—it’s our only option.”
The future of Hailey Elementary will be a driving factor in how much that request needs to be.
On Monday, the committee began to break down the practical details of replacing the school, including where to hold classes for the nearly 400 enrolled students once crews break ground.
The building itself dates back more than 80 years—at least as far as 1938, according to a fact sheet presented by former Principal Thad Biggers to Finance Committee members during a January tour of the school. It has undergone extensive remodels to house just about every grade the School District offers.
In its description of the site, the committee called the 90,000-square-foot facility a “maze of connected buildings,” making the building more difficult to navigate and harder to secure than modern alternatives.
“Almost half of it is just hallways,” Harlig said. “You can imagine how inefficient it is. It cries out for some sort of change.
“It’s complicated for a number of issues, certainly cost among them. The amount of that levy is something property taxpayers are going to look at very closely.”
Depending on the location of a residence, funding for the School District makes up between 65 and 75 percent of an owner’s property tax bill, according to a brief presented to the committee on Monday. Between its roughly $32 million stabilization levy, $3 million supplemental levy and $3 million plant facilities levy, the district took in about 54 percent of the $70.6 million collected by the Blaine County treasurer in 2018, according to its auditor report.
If the committee recommends replacing the school, the new levy would likely be between $5 million and $6 million per year over its 10-year life, Garrison said. Even without that, he said, the district will have to put the question to voters in the first half of next year, or else cut some $2 million out of the general fund to cover facilities costs.
“If a levy does not get passed in March or May, all hell’s going to break loose with school funding,” he said. “We will not be able to keep it up at this level.”