West Salem’s school district is providing more insight into its upcoming referendum.
The district is asking voters two questions on the April election ballot – to allow the district to borrow $32 million to build a new middle school, and to approve $500,000 for improvements to the elementary school’s security.
The current middle school is only about 30 years old but is in need of some upgrades – and administrators say the choice is between costly band-aids to fix the problem short-term, or a new building that would last decades longer.
West Salem Superintendent Tony Gunderson says the school board and administrators are facing an aging middle school that needs more space.
"What are the possible solutions for that?” he asked. “We listed a whole bunch, all the way from small additions to a small fourth building.”
Issues with the middle school include narrow hallways, a gym that three physical education classes need to share at once, necessary upgrades to the fire alarm system, and a decades-old roof. Gunderson said while each issue on its own would be cheaper to fix, over time those costs could add up.
"We believe that building a larger building, although not the least expensive option today, will be the least expensive option over the next 25 years,” Gunderson said.
The referendum would cost taxpayers about $75 for every $100,000 home – a price that’s significantly lower than it would otherwise be, because the school district has finished paying back debt from its elementary school.
The school district wouldn't tear down the existing middle school building, but instead is talking about renting it out to the Boys and Girls Club and other local organizations.