Old part of Gresham school must go, survey says

Community indicates support for new academic facility, but not athletic amenities
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The Gresham School District this week released the results of a survey sent out in September and October seeking input on how to address its facility needs after two referenda were voted down by the public last year.

A summary of the survey results indicated respondents favored demolishing a part of the school building that has been in existence for 82 years, but they also feel too much emphasis was placed on athletics. Some also lacked confidence in the school board, and others were concerned about an increase in taxes.

According to the survey results, 37 percent of the respondents voted against the $6 million referendum in 2016 that would have replaced the 1935 portion of the high school, while almost half voted for it. The results were flipped in regards to the $3.2 referendum to build a new gymnasium and other athletic facilities, with 39 percent of the respondents casting yes votes and 46 percent voting no.

“That’s what we kind of half-figured, based on the referendum results the first time,” said Newell Haffner, district superintendent. “We figured we’d get the results from that.”

The respondents who voted no on either question gave a variety of reasons why they did so, including being against building a new gym (67 percent), feeling the tax impact was too large (65 percent) and lacking trust in the district’s planning process (62 percent).

Only 37 percent of the respondents voted no because they were against tearing down the 1935 portion of the high school, 29 percent were against updates to the cafeteria and 14 percent were against renovating the classrooms.

About 61 percent of respondents advised that the school board create a plan from the survey feedback and try for another referendum. About 26 percent recommended the district do nothing at this time.

Half of the resident respondents recommended the district address the school’s facility needs as soon as possible, and another 24 percent recommended taking action within the next five years.

Demolishing the old portion of the school and rebuilding had 48 percent support in the survey, while 28 percent indicated renovation and maintenance was the way to go.

“I’m happy they suggested replacing the old ‘35 part of the building, because that’s been up for debate in our community for a couple of years now,” Haffner said. “To have the survey come back and say, ‘Yep, it’s time to take it down and to build it and make it handicap-accessible, secure and educationally adequate is good. They basically gave us marching orders.”

The survey asked residents how much of a tax increase they would support in a referendum. About 12 percent supported an increase of $132 per $100,000 of property value, which is estimated for a $6 million referendum. Another 12 percent supported a $173 annual hike for a $7 million referendum, while 9 percent favored a $214 increase ($8 million), 7 percent favored a $255 increase ($9 million), and 11 percent favored a $296 increase ($10 million). Another 11 percent favored going even higher.

The Gresham School Board will be addressing the survey results Monday and looking at where to go now, Haffner said. The district has hired Kraus Anderson, a construction and development company with a Wisconsin office in Madison, to develop a new plan.

“Communicating with the public is going to be important, because that was one of the things that people told us. We didn’t communicate the plan well enough,” Haffner said.

According to Holly Burr, district business manager, there has been a committee that included residents that has been working on a new plan since the failure of the first referendum. The survey was recommended by that committee.

“There has been a significant amount of community involvement already,” Burr said.

THE NEXT STEP

WHAT: Gresham School Board meeting

WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Media center, Gresham Community School, 501 Schabow St., Gresham.