McKenzie School District turns eyes toward rebuilding
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
The Sept. 7 Holiday Farm fire destroyed some outbuildings on the McKenzie School District campus, but the main school buildings survived. The school was a hub for the emergency relief response. (Photo by Rachel Baker, OSBA)
Optimism is blooming in one of the school districts hardest hit by the fall wildfires.
The McKenzie School Board voted last week to put a bond on the May 18 ballot, and parent Danna Brownell is excited about it.
The September Holiday Farm fire destroyed more than 400 homes in the district, about 17% of its tax base, according to Superintendent Lane Tompkins.
Brownell said the bond would put a heavier burden on property owners right now, but she hopes people will follow through on their rebuilding talk to spread the cost around. Brownell’s property was damaged, but her house was not destroyed.
A vote for the bond would show a commitment and investment in the future after months of uncertainty, she said.
“Our community needs a school, and the school needs a community,” Brownell said.
The wildfire damaged the district campus, but the bond is focused on long-planned needs. Tompkins said helping the community, however, is one of the bond’s main drivers. For instance, the proposal includes a generator for the school so it can act as an emergency shelter.
A November bond vote failed after the school board asked the community to vote no. It was too much to ask of a community reeling from the fire’s destruction, board members said.
Now the board says the timing is better.
The $15.2 million bond would pay for facility upgrades, including campus security improvements and a new K-6 school. If passed, the bond would come with a $4 million Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching grant. The Oregon Department of Education allowed the district’s eligibility to move from November to May.
The district tried to gauge the community’s support but it was hard to connect with people, Tompkins told the board last week. COVID-19 precautions call for virtual meetings, but much of the community lost reliable internet access in the fire.
The district decided $2 per $1,000 assessed value was the likely limit for community support, and the board ultimately settled on a 25-year term at an estimated $1.92 per $1,000 assessed value. The district last passed a bond in 1997.
During the board’s discussion, board member Elaine Bryson said that if they want families to rebuild there and if they want to attract new families, they need to offer a nice school and a safe campus.
Board members expect the bond to cover the district’s needs for long after many of their tenures.
“That’s scary and exciting at the same time,” Bryson said after the vote.