Lynden, Ferndale gathering information after failed school bonds

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 10, 2014 

First Day Sch Lynden

In this Sept. 1, 2010 file photo, parents walk their kids to the first day of school at Fisher Elementary in Lynden. A school bond measure would renovate and expand the school, as well as building a new middle school on district-owned property on Line Road.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Officials in the Lynden and Ferndale school districts are going back to the drawing board after their bonds failed in a February special election.

Ferndale's $125 million bond to rebuild its high school, renovate a home for Windward High School and build a maintenance and transportation center was resoundingly defeated, with a little more than 31 percent of voters approving the bond.

Lynden's $46 million bond to rebuild Fisher Elementary and Lynden Middle School received nearly 57 percent approval, but fell short of the 60 percent needed to pass.

"Fifty-seven percent of the people were supportive. That's a strong level of support but just not the threshold of support we needed," said Lynden Superintendent Jim Frey. "It's wise to step back and say, 'Hey, let's look at this again.'"

The district and Lynden School Board are going to re-evaluate the information that went into creating the bond to figure out if there are any ideas the district missed or different directions the district should go.

Engaging the community will be part of the process. Some questions the community had about the bond revolved around the middle school, which would have been rebuilt on district property on Line Road, rather than at its current location on Main Street. The board will look at the location for the school and whether the current site would be adequate for the new school.

"There are a variety of reasons why people didn't support this bond," Frey said. "There is an interest in knowing and understanding those reasons. At the same time, there is a need to look at the needs the district has for facilities."

At a Lynden School Board meeting Feb. 27, more than 200 people showed up, with more than 25 speaking about the bond. Many were supportive, and some wanted the district to put it to a vote again in April. Frey said that wouldn't provide enough time to get feedback.

For both districts, cost was a factor in the defeat. Lynden's bond would have added about $440 per year to the property tax bill of a home assessed at $250,000.

"There's always a question about cost: 'Can we do this for less money? Is there some way to do this that doesn't cost as much and yet provides a school facility that will last 30 to 50 years?'" Frey said.

Ferndale's bond would have added about $430 per year in property taxes for a $250,000 home. That cost was too high for many, and Ferndale Superintendent Linda Quinn said any future bond would have to take into account what the community can afford and would be willing to pay.

"I think the main thing I heard was the cost," Quinn said. "However, I think through the course of the campaign, the conversation shifted. I think by the end more people were talking about, 'We need to do something; this just isn't the thing.'"

The district has no plans to put the bond back to a vote in the next year. Instead, officials will work on figuring out what the community wants. In May, an open-ended survey will be sent to district residents, with forums in the fall to share the survey results and get more community feedback.

"I want to make sure everybody has a chance to weigh in," Quinn said. "OK, we started the conversation; let's keep it going. It doesn't make any sense to me to rush."

Some people wondered why the bond only addressed the high schools and not the elementary schools. She said the district's rationale was that the high schools serve all students, and Ferndale High is the biggest project with the biggest need, so it should be started while interest rates remain favorable. Elementary schools also don't have the same need for space that the high schools do, though some, such as Custer Elementary, need renovations.

"Either we didn't do a good enough job sharing it or it's not a rationale that people are accepting," Quinn said.

People also wondered about moving the maintenance and transportation center from the high school to the Mountain View Elementary property, and whether the entire high school campus needed to be rebuilt, as the bond called for.

"We're going to take our time now to really listen to people," Quinn said. "We had a lot of people step up and say they want to help and be part of the solution, and I want to honor that."

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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