By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
The first meeting is scheduled this month for a task force helping the Bethel School District figure out how to accommodate a higher enrollment in coming years.
The goal of the Long Range Facilities Task Force – whose members include district personnel, parents, students and other community members – is to study whether the district is ready for a projected addition of as many as 3,000 students in the next decade.
District officials said they need to know if existing facilities will be adequate.
According to officials, surveys last fall showed overcrowded buildings, school safety and aging facilities were the Bethel community's top priorities. The task force will study the age and condition of school buildings, help prioritize urgent any needs, and develop a plan that keeps costs low for taxpayers
Starting March 21, the group will meet six to eight times this year before making recommendations to the School Board next fall.
The task force members will have a wide range of experience and perspectives, and will represent all geographic areas of the district, officials said.
Voters last year rejected a $236 million bond measure twice. Both times, it fell short of the 60 percent supermajority required for bonds to pass.
The proposal was for building or improving 15 schools for more classroom space to keep up with expected increases of student enrollment districtwide. Also at stake was a proposal to build an aquatic center that would serve high school swim teams and as a community recreation site.
Other bond-funded improvements would have included bringing buildings up to safety and health standards by updating roofs, fire protection and security systems, technology and earthquake safety.
The district sought the bond measure last year in order to take advantage of what officials describers as favorable financing and construction costs to replace, renovate and repair older schools.
Bethel currently has about 18,000 students attending 16 elementary schools, six middle schools and four high schools. The district also has an online academy.