Klamath Falls City School Board on Monday night voted unanimously during a public meeting to give Superintendent Paul Hillyer permission to ask to borrow $4.5 million from Klamath County commissioners to finish rebuilding the arts building at Klamath Union High School.
Hillyer will ask to take out the loan from the Secure Rural Schools Fund, over at least 20 years with interest.
He plans to make the request at 10 a.m. today at the Klamath County Government Center.
If commissioners deny the request, the school board in its resolution is approved to seek the loan from another agency.
There may be an opportunity for public comment though there may be limited seating available.
School board member Mike Moore read from a statement ardently defending the decision to make a loan request. Moore also shared the statement with commissioners on Tuesday morning during a commission meeting.
Moore said construction costs were reduced from initially $16 million over-runs to $7.4 million, and that the gap can be filled by making the request for $4.5 million more to the county. He added that the ask isn’t out of the norm for school districts across Oregon, and emphasized its necessity for completing the total $49.5 million KU renovation.
The $4.5 million request would go toward the following, including:
■ Improvements that allow the arts building to be used as a multi-purpose space;
■ Replacement of windows for energy efficiency;
■ Improvements to exterior walls, which lack insulation;
■ Refurbishment of the arts building roof;
■ Replacement of the exterior staircase on arts building;
■ And an additional 150 seats for the theater for a total of 250 seats.
Project Manager Samanthea Totten-Perry said construction crews will need to return to the “drawing board” when it comes to engineering the “link” between the arts and academic building.
“I cannot stress enough how excited I am to you about getting to this last phase,” Totten-Perry said.
The loan request was met on Monday with opposition by Michael Slinker, who said he was representing a group called Concerned Citizens for Klamath Union High School. Slinker read a statement to the board, stating the project initially was slated to be done in fall 2016, and asked that the school board and superintendent host a public forum to talk costs.
“We request that the legal fiduciary agents of the project composed of the district administration, the board of directors, and project oversight group make a full disclosure in a public forum of the project financial and decision-making issues,” Slinker said, noting residents want to know specifics on the loan and how it will be paid back.
After the meeting, Hillyer responded to Slinker’s statement when asked by the H&N.
“We’ve had quite a few community forums during the course of this project,” Hillyer said. “Nobody comes to them, so we get to feel it’s a little bit of a waste of time.”
There is no public forum planned at the moment, but Hillyer said the board would be happy to host one if there is interest.
“There’s nothing that we’re hiding or ashamed of, either, for that matter. And if there’s some angry people, well it gives them a chance to get it off their chest, I guess.”
Downtown business owner Abbie McClung submitted a statement of support to be read in her absence for the loan request.
“...If the interest rate is low, there is no additional cost to taxpayers, school districts borrowing funds is not unusual,” McClung said in the statement, which was read by Bill Jennings, board chair, “and we all agree that our entire community benefits from youth who receive an enriching public school experience, then the benefits to this action outweigh the risks.”
Moore echoed her sentiments, emphasizing that the school district has managed its finances well for many years, leaving the district in a strong position to borrow money and repay it.
“Taxpayers will not be asked to pay any more than they are already paying,” Moore said.
School board member and KU parent Trina Perez said her son loves the new and improved KU, and she would like to see the same reaction from the arts building when finished.
“I’m for asking the commissioners for money — nothing’s perfect, but it’s the spot where we’re at, and it has to be addressed and it’s moving forward,” Perez said.
School board member Lori Theros addressed negative feedback from the community on borrowing money from commissioners.
“I’m really sad that people are so negative about it ‘cause it’s about our kids, and they really deserve the best,” Theros said.
The resolution No. is 1804.