The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

School board gets report on facility needs


March 15, 2023

Benny Westcott

Schools Superintendent Terry Martin, center, makes a point during the board meeting. From left are board members Debra Brown and Mike Adams, and district secretary Julie Emmert.

What does the Sweet Home School District need to provide for kids' physical needs and accommodate the growth in the community?

That was a focus for the School board Monday, March 13, as members looked over a long-range facility plan, produced by a planning committee consisting of district staff and community members over the past year.

"It's an exciting time," District Business Manager Kevin Strong said. "We have some opportunities in front of us when it comes to our school facilities in the not-too-distant future."

The plan calls for the district in the short term to continue used federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds for many relatively small projects, including upgrading HVAC systems, lighting and technology, and to continue to develop a plan to improve security and surveillance features at Oak Heights Elementary School.

The committee has determined that long-term maintenance funds should be used to help extend the life of the Sweet Home Community Pool, which is now more than 70 years old, and that pool users in the meantime need to be aware that numerous issues could cause lengthy shutdowns for repairs as the facility ages. Given these issues, the report argued that "Sweet Home should seriously consider replacing the pool."

The document noted that, given Sweet Home's "relatively modest" tax base, the opportunity to go out for a sizable bond that maintains existing tax rates only occurs once about every 25 years. The committee determined that the district's next bond measure should focus on replacing much of the high school's classroom space to make the building more secure and to improve the learning environment.

The report noted that the high school currently has more than 40 separate entrances and no security vestibule. Students have to go outside to reach many of their classes through publicly accessible areas. And most classroom sections were built as economically as possible in the early to mid-1970s, using flat roof construction that "has not held up well in western Oregon's climate."

The committee also determined that school needs included a security vestibule at the building's front entrance and realignment of some hallways to make the layout feel "less like a maze." Additionally, the auditorium foyer also needs refurbishment, as does the band and choir classrooms and the auditorium stage. Career technical education areas have also been identified as needing improvement. For instance, committee members have determined that the wood shop is in need of replacement.

The committee also reasoned that the district should pursue a seismic grant for the high school auxiliary gym once Oak Heights has been awarded one.

According to the report, while the district has the capacity to absorb some additional students, "schools are expected to become increasingly stressed for space unless extra classroom and auxiliary space is added, especially if residential growth in Sweet Home accelerates."

Reopening Crawfordsville or Pleasant Valley schools was not deemed viable by the committee in the face of increasing numbers. The report determined that there weren't enough students living near Crawfordsville to operate it as a neighborhood school. Instead, boundaries would have to be shifted, with current Holley Elementary and some Oak Heights students being sent to Crawfordsville.

And Pleasant Valley was viewed as being too small to operate economically as an elementary school.

The report also notes that Pleasant Valley is currently being used by a non-profit organization to provide "needed pre-kindergarten programming for Sweet Home area residents."

The committee suggested that the district consider selling the Crawfordsville and Pleasant Valley properties and using the funds for improvements at schools serving district students.

The committee laid out two viable options instead of reopening the former schools: adding eight classrooms at the junior high and converting the school to serve sixth-grade students in addition to seventh- and eighth-graders, thus relieving enrollment pressure on the district's elementary schools, or adding classroom space at Hawthorne Elementary School while also adding a separate cafeteria there.

Much of Sweet Home's residential growth is expected to occur near Hawthorne, and expanding the school would help provide sufficient space.

The report noted a number of athletic facility shortcomings. Sweet Home's baseball and softball fields are often unplayable during spring due to weather. In addition, Sweet Home often lacks enough adequate field space during the fall for junior high and high school football and boys and girls soccer. Furthermore, the grass field behind the high school is often unusable for physical education classes when it is wet.

The report noted that concerns have also been expressed about Sweet Home's softball facility, which shares space with the Oregon Jamboree country music festival. Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance. Title IX does not require baseball and softball fields to be the same, but rather of the same quality.

One option the committee laid out to address these concerns is to build an artificial turf field for softball, baseball, soccer and high school PE classes, using a combination of donated funds, in-kind contributions and district funds. If a new high school academic building is constructed, the field could be located in the area where the high school's 'D' building is currently located to help minimize the impact on Jamboree grounds. This location was also viewed to be easily accessible for PE classes.

A second option the committee outlined is to build an artificial turf field for softball, soccer and high school PE classes. Meanwhile, an artificial turf infield could be installed for baseball.

The committee also asserted that the district should work with community partners and neighboring property owners to see if portions of existing properties can be better utilized to benefit the community.

For example, since Sweet Home lacks park space on the east side of town, a larger playground could be developed in a portion of the field southeast of Foster Elementary School. The committee also reasoned that the parking lot across Long Street from the high school could be repurposed, especially if parking areas are added on the high school's side of Long Street during a renovation project.

The committee stated that the district should work with the Sweet Home Community Foundation to provide opportunities for people and organizations to support projects that are important to them, and develop ways to permanently recognize those that support facilities that will benefit Sweet Home students for decades to come.

The report emphasizes a strong history of philanthropic giving in Sweet Home, citing such examples as the Jim Riggs Community Center project, the Team Up for Turf and Track project and most recently the Samaritan Health Family Medicine and Urgent Care Clinic.

"With potential upcoming projects for classroom improvements, upgraded career technical education space, music and auditorium enhancements, athletic field improvements and possibly a new swimming pool, there are numerous opportunities where individuals, families, businesses and charitable organizations can help further enhance the quality of life in Sweet Home," the report says.

In other meeting action, the board:

-- Accepted the resignation of Hawthorne Elementary School Principal Debbie Phillips, effective Feb. 28, 2023.

Phillips said in a statement to The New Era that she will not be returning next year due to "personal reasons," but would not elaborate.

"I have greatly enjoyed my time at the Sweet Home School District," she said in the statement. "I am deeply grateful for the opportunity that was given to me to serve in this district. I wish to thank all of the teachers, staff, administration, school board, parents and students for the love and support they have shown me over the last two years. I have grown many close relationships with my staff at Sweet Home that will last a lifetime."

Hawthorne's principal is currently Aaron Huff, formerly the assistant principal at the high school.

-- Accepted the resignation of Jason Van Eck, Board Member #5 At Large, effective immediately. In an email to Board Chairman Mike Reynolds and Superintendent Terry Martin, Van Eck wrote that "It has been my pleasure to serve on the Sweet Home School Board. I wish you and the Sweet Home School District the best in the future."

-- Accepted the resignation of Tim Faulconer, math teacher at the junior high, effective March 10, 2023.

-- Accepted resignation from Cy Maughmer, language arts teacher at the high school, effective June 16, 2023.

-- Approved the temporary hire of Wendy Ward, temporary math teacher at the junior high, effective March 8, 2023.

-- Heard an audit report from Strong. The auditors issued a "clean" opinion on the district's financial statements for fiscal year 2022, with no reservations.

The district's general fund ending balance increased by $967,895 from $3,054,881 on June 30, 2021 to $4,022,776 on June 30, 2022. The June 30, 2022 fund balance was 15.9% of the general fund's fiscal year revenues.

The district's total outstanding debt decreased by $2,143,566 during the fiscal year, reflecting a 9.4% overall reduction as the district continues to meet its debt service schedule requirements.

The district's net position in the government-wide financial statements increased by $4,389,737 from $13,736,380 on June 30, 2021 to $18,126,117 on June 30, 2022.

The Statement of Net Position, which is included in the financial statements, presents information on the district's assets and liabilities, with the difference between the two reported as net position.

Strong noted that over time, increases or decreases in net position may serve as a useful indicator of whether the financial position of the district is improving or deteriorating.

During the fiscal year, the district recorded a $137,769 asset write-down. This write-down reflects the district's portion of the Oregon Local Government Investment Pool's (LGIP) June 30, 2022 book value that exceeded the market value of assets held.

Rising interest rates resulted in some assets held by the LGIP having a lower market value than their book value, necessitating the adjustment for financial purposes.

The high school activity fund balance increased by $53,441 during the fiscal year. Receipts exceeded expenditures for the Cheerleading Fund by $27,446, for the Booster Club Fund by $15,105 and for the Natural Resources Class Fund by $13,314.

The junior high school activity fund balance decreased by $5,168 during the fiscal year primarily due to the Track Fund's expenditures exceeding receipts by $4,000.

-- Heard from Strong that district year-to-date spending is a little over $1.1 million above the same time period last year, but "we are well on track to be within our total budget for spending for this year." He said that higher wages and salaries and higher staffing levels are the primary reasons for the increase in spending.

-- Saw the district attendance award given to Hawthorne Elementary for the second month in a row.

-- Heard from Martin that district enrollment was 2,316 at the end of February, down slightly from 2,325 the month prior.


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