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Election 2017 CMYK

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SWEET HOME — School District Superintendent Tom Yahraes was battling a stubborn cold Tuesday evening, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiastic response to the overwhelming passage of a $4 million capital improvement bond.

“It’s a great time to be in Sweet Home,” the first-year superintendent exclaimed. “Sweet Home is a small community with a big heart. I want to thank all of our voters, the School Board, our Political Action Committee and all of the folks who showed up at our community and school forums.”

According to early election night results, there were 1,305 yes votes to 752 no votes, or 63 percent to 36 percent.

Although much of the bond funds will be dedicated to improvements at the Junior High, all of the district’s buildings will see health and safety upgrades.

“We’re excited to overhaul the Junior High building and make it a symbol of pride for our community,” Yahraes said. 

Yahraes said the next step will be to put together a planning team.

“We want as much input as possible,” Yahraes said. “We have a year to put our best efforts forward to stretch our dollars, maximize efforts with the best removal, replacement and renovation processes possible at the Junior High. Every school has projects on the list.”

Shannon Pettner, who chaired the Political Action Committee, called the election results, “Fantastic, great news. We are really excited the community is supportive of our school district. We look forward to seeing many positive changes.”

Due to refinancing at lower interest rates, the school district has been able to reduce the payment schedule by two years for an $18 million bond that was passed in 2001.

Passage of the new bond will take payments back to the original date, but the school district will be eligible for $4 million in matching funds from the state of Oregon, doubling purchasing power.

Initially, the district estimated property owners would continue to pay an estimated $1.89 to $1.92 per thousand of property value through the 2029-30 fiscal year.

However, Business Director Kevin Strong said, the bond rate has declined since then to $1.62 per thousand. That's because of overall growth in assessed valuations and the district's refinancing of the bonds at lower interest rates. The combination reduced the original tax rate and trimmed more than two and a half years of debt service payments off the end of the bond, he said.

"In total, debt service payments have been reduced by over $5 million," Strong said.

Sweet Home Junior High was constructed in 1962 and includes prefabricated buildings that house the cafeteria, locker rooms and Basic Life Skills programs. The buildings are buckling and need to be razed and replaced.

The main building has a flat roof that leaks. The plan is to cover it with a polystyrene buildup and coating, plus update plumbing and replace windows with safety glass.

There also will be new locker rooms, an auxiliary gym and cafeteria.

There also will be significant security upgrades to the school that has about 360 students.

The plan is to take on projects over a three-year period, according to Yahraes.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.