Opinion

Lynden school bond important for community

As Lynden’s mayor and life-long resident who, like many of you, raised children in this community, I feel compelled to weigh in on the important matter of the April 28 Lynden School capital facilities bond.

The cost of the bond has many concerned. What some forget is that rigid Washington state rules and regulations generate the price tag. The work must be done at “scale” rates and the state sets what pay all the workers will get. This pay is typically quite high, but it’s the law. And, let’s be realistic, we all know and understand that the state will never reduce rules and regulations to make building schools more affordable!

Additionally, schools are now built to an industrial standard. Schools like Fisher and the current middle school were built using residential standards, which is one of the reasons the facilities are showing so much wear after 50 years. (I know what my house would look like if 20 kids spent six hours in its rooms every day!) In contrast, Isom and Vossbeck schools are now over 20 years old and are in much better shape for their age, which is a testament to better quality construction because, as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

Here’s a fundamental question: “If not now, when?” Does anyone really believe rebuilding these schools will become less expensive if we postpone the project? Certainly not. Waiting will only increase the bottom line. With typical inflation at 3 percent, every year we delay will likely add $1.5 million-to-$2 million annually to the cost of the project!

And let’s not forget another expense associated with delay: loss of state matching funds. Currently, the state will match the $48 million bond with another $16 million. We all know the state has many places to spend our tax dollars. The reality is that our schools compete with other projects on which the state could spend its funds.

I understand the cost is a tough pill to swallow for many struggling households. But safe and modern facilities will enhance our community and make Lynden better poised for the future. Education is a critical element in creating a strong next generation; facilities that enhance education will help create leaders for the future.

I have heard concerns that the time is not right for this bond. I look around and see Lynden growing, fairly dramatically. Growth brings new families and our school population increases. The middle school is currently exceeding its design by a factor of almost two. If we do not build a larger middle school we will have to add more portables. Anyone who’s toured the current property understands that adding anything more to that site would simply not be wise use of our tax dollars.

Although some complain that the planned location is wrong, there are advantages to the location. Currently, the middle school is near Lynden’s industrial sector, which is certainly not the best area for our children. The proposed location is where much of the growth is occurring in the city. I suggest everyone take a drive down the Line Road and turn east on Aaron — you might be surprised at what you see. This is an ideal location for the new middle school: close to major arterials yet in proximity to a growing, vibrant neighborhood.

Others do not like to combine the new middle school with the Fisher rebuild — “it’s too much money!” However, both are serious needs for our community. Both need to be done. Would it be better if the school came out with another bond request in three years? No, because then everyone would likely complain that we “just passed a bond.” (And, remember, there is expense just incurred by promoting and managing each bond issue.)

The leaders at the school have put together a good plan. It is a well-known fact that the middle school cannot be remodeled because there would be no place to educate the students during the remodeling. And the truth is that it actually costs more to remodel than build new. Once the new middle school is built, the Fisher students can be housed in the old middle school for up to two years while their school is completed. Seems sensible to me.

A couple of closing thoughts:

Lynden’s tax for schools is the fourth lowest of all school districts in Skagit and Whatcom counties. The leaders in Lynden have been good caretakers of your tax dollars. If the bond passes, we would still be the fourth lowest, which indicates to me that our community has the capacity to handle this bond. One of the reasons our tax rate is so low is because all of our schools are paid for. Undoubtedly, years ago when the bonds were issued for Isom and Vossbeck many citizens thought they were too high. As time goes by, inflation occurs and things that seemed expensive 20 years ago sound inexpensive today. Let’s pass this bond now so a decade from now we can look back and see the good deal we created for ourselves.

Yes, this bond will raise taxes we pay on our homes. But remember: good schools also raise the collective values of all the homes in a community. This may not be important today, but in the future when you need to sell your home it will be nice to see an increased value due in part to good schools in the community.

Ignoring the problem or postponing action is not a neutral position: it’s a costly mistake which will not go away.

Let’s provide for the next generation the same daring vision and community spirit our parents and grandparents modeled for us when they committed to important school and civic projects in earlier generations.

Please join me in voting yes for the upcoming bond.

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