Outside the UGB Schools rally support for school site exception


News staff writer

December 30, 2006

Hood River County School District Supt. Pat Evenson-Brady is gearing up for a legislative push to make new school construction more affordable.

Without a change in state policy, Evenson-Brady said the district will be unable to shoulder the costs for qualifying property.

“We can’t afford the land inside the Urban Growth Boundary; it’s more than double the price,” she told the County Commission last week.

Brady is making the rounds to rally support from Cascade Locks and Hood River public agencies for an exception to the land-use system. Under existing law, the building of churches or schools is prohibited on farmland except within three miles of a UGB. That rule was created with the intent that property adjacent to a city boundary would accommodate growth so that natural resources were protected in outlying areas.

In addition, Goal 11 of the state’s planning rules prohibits the extension of sewer lines outside the UGB. It also restricts the installation of a new water line if it is going to bring more growth to nearby agricultural lands.

Evenson-Brady has enlisted the help of Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, to tackle the issue.

“Oregon is one of only three states in the nation to have almost no state funding for school construction,” she said. “With a current state reimbursement rate of 2-3 percent per construction, almost the entire bill for a new school has to be footed by the local taxpayers.

“Getting a reasonable price for land is a good way to save taxpayer money and assure that a construction bond levy passes.”

Smith and Metsger are now having language drafted for their bill. They will bring it forward early in the 2007-09 legislation session, which begins Jan. 8. The bipartisan team plans to ask its peers in the House and Senate to make an exception to existing rules in select cases.

For example, 70 percent of Hood River County’s land base is either in national or county ownership. And 7 percent of the remaining land is preserved for agricultural use — rendering 77 percent of the available property off-limits for new schools.

“I’m looking forward to getting the draft back and moving ahead on this piece of legislation. It will enable the Hood River School District to have the flexibility it needs in siting a new school without adding more costs than necessary,” said Smith.

“However, we will have to deal with the land-use system and that is not always easy,” she warned.

Evenson-Brady believes that having a united local front will aid Metsger and Smith in the political review process for their bill.

The school district wants to purchase a 25-plus-acre parcel within three to four blocks of Westside Elementary School. Evenson-Brady told the county board on Dec. 18 that the $70,000 per acre cost would double or triple if the property were located right next to the Hood River city limits.

She said new facilities are needed since the student count, which now stands at 4,000, is expected to grow about 30 percent within the next eight years, an increase of more than 1,200 individuals. She said if the projection of a Portland State University study holds true, 53 more classrooms will be needed at many of the nine area schools.

“We’re feeling quite urgent about this,” she said.

Evenson-Brady said construction costs have risen about 1 percent a month for the past 30 months — so it is time for action. She said if the district is forced to comply with current rules, a new building would have to be erected in the Pine Grove or Odell areas — bringing added transportation costs.

She asked Smith and Metsger for assistance after being told by the Department of Land Conservation and Development that the chances were “slim to none” of getting a plan approved without a policy change. DLCD also said the cost for the district to abide by the existing rules would not be considered during the review process.

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