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Growth putting pressure on schools, cost on taxpayers

Posted at 9:38 AM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 11:44:02-04

TREASURE VALLEY, Idaho — It's no secret that Idaho is growing – bringing hordes of new families to the Treasure Valley and pushing some school facilities to their limit.

U.S. Census Data from 2020 reported a 17.3% increase in the Idaho population since 2010. Much of the growth is in Treasure Valley, Ada County, and the cities of Star and Meridian.

Now, schools must figure out how to accommodate the new wave of students while tending to the current infrastructure.

A draft copy of the Nampa School District Facilities Master Plan states that 11 – of the approximately 30 – district buildings are in "critical" condition. Fourteen, the report reads, are considered "poor."

NSD executive director of operations, Peter Jurhs, said a facility FCI score (Facilities Condition Index) measures the level of risk if maintenance is deferred. According to the plan, a building with a more than 30% FCI score was labeled a "critical" condition.

Still, Jurhs said a "critical" score could range from needing a new H-VAC system to septic improvements.

"We have a few buildings built in 1970-something and have been working on the same septic system for the last 50 years," he said. "They very well could have a catastrophic failure any day. That's not irrational. I don't think it's very likely, but it's something that could happen.

"Not everything's rosy, but this ship isn't going to sink," Jurhs said. "We've done a good job of keeping the most important systems up to date."

Related: High school students talk post-graduation plans, go-on rate still declining

Next Tuesday, the district will host an open house for community members to outline their recommendations for future projects at Nampa High School between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Potential initiatives could range from needing more power outlets to integrating more technology in classrooms, Jurhs said. But the projects could be more significant, he said, with enough community buy-in.

"The feedback we've gotten from a handful of people is that some in the community dream about a new Nampa High School and replacing that campus," Jurhs said. "But we want to know, how big is that dream? Is it a small dream for a group of people? Or is it a big dream for the community?"

A new school is not just a possibility for West Ada School District families. It is a defined need.

In a presentation to Meridian City Council last week, West Ada representatives said they plan to add 11,000 new students into district classrooms. The massive enrollment increase is caused by projected growth in areas like Star and North Meridian, where several housing projects are scheduled for construction, said West Ada Planning and Development Coordinator Marci Horner.

The solution, Horner said, is to build 10 new schools by 2034. She said the most considerable need is in elementary grades, which will see at least four new schools over the next decade.

"To accommodate all the future elementary schools in this (the North region) area, we will need to build 1.21 schools," Horner said.

In Idaho, school districts are funded through local, state and federal dollars.

School districts rely on supplemental levies and bonds to cover the cost when planning a major project – like expanding facilities or improving building conditions.

Related: Bond bill to hear public testimony, school maintenance funding in question

As growth continues to push schools to their limits, some officials say impact fees could be the answer.

"If you were to go outside and ask people on the streets if (they) would support an impact fee that would pay for or subsidize new schools and reduce property taxes, 10 out of 10 property taxpayers would agree," Meridian City Councilor Treg Bernt said. "Without a shadow of a doubt."

Developers pay impact fees to cities to help offset the cost of a proposed project's pressure on infrastructures like roads or sewers. Idaho law prohibits schools from using impact funding.

Related: Education advocates push for new way to fund school construction costs