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Albany school officials celebrated Tuesday as early returns showed a $159 million bond request passing by a few hundred votes in both Linn and Benton counties.

Cheers and applause broke out from the group of about 30 people, including Greater Albany Public Schools district employees, friends and associates, gathered at Calapooia Brewing as Board Chairman Micah Smith announced the first totals.

"Linn County's in," Smith called. "We won on the ballot measure. And in Benton!"

Unofficial returns, with 89 of 90 precincts reporting, showed Linn County passing the measure, 52 to 48 percent. 

In Benton County, voters were passing the request 56 to 44 percent.

"I'm thrilled," Superintendent Jim Golden said. "It's a chance to move us into a new era to serve the kids and Greater Albany Public Schools. I just want to say how thankful I am and grateful I am to the community for supporting us." 

The new bond was meant to replace an expiring measure, a $55 million bond 11 years ago that included the construction of Timber Ridge School.

The new measure will cost $2.35 per thousand dollars of assessed value. Half the bonds will be sold for 10 years and the other half for 20 to generate the $159 million.

Passage means the district will move forward with six major construction and renovation projects, including building a new elementary school near Timber Ridge and starting the first phase of a full-scale replacement for West Albany High School.

The construction at West will include the high school's first auditorium, a major lobbying point for several bond supporters. Future construction phases have not yet been scheduled or designed, and school board members have said these likely will depend on passage of future bonds.

Stuart Welsh, who teaches band and an event technology class at West Albany, said he was thrilled to get a chance to work with his students in updated surroundings.

And, he said, students will get to see how acoustic, electrical, lighting and sound are updated as the school moves through the design process. “What an extraordinary opportunity for high school kids, to see that kind of thing up close and personal," he said.

Other projects, and approximate costs, include:

• Upgrades and repairs to roofs, plumbing, paving, security systems, heating and ventilation systems and other infrastructure needs: $50 million.

• A major rebuild at Oak Grove Elementary School, including eight additional classrooms and a cafeteria: $18 million.

• Renovations, upgrades and new construction for multi-use vocational education space at South Albany High School that includes additional gym space: $10 million.

• Vocational-technical upgrades for science, technology, engineering and math at Albany's middle schools: $3 million.

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