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New Provo schools?

District is planning a bond election next June

PROVO — Provo School District officials will ask voters in June to increase taxes to pay for several new schools, additions to existing schools and renovations to other district buildings.

Voters will decide whether to give the district the go-ahead to issue a multimillion-dollar bond — perhaps as much as $30 million. A tax increase — a temporary one, at the least — would cover the cost of repayment.

Deseret Morning News graphicDNews graphicChanging schoolsRequires Adobe Acrobat.

"What we're recommending to the (school) board is they not exceed $25-$30 million," said Kerry Smith, the Provo district's business manager.

The possible financial impact to each household if the public-financing package gains passage remains unknown. No firm decisions have yet been made on the exact amount that voters will be asked to approve, Smith said.

The board also has not decided which construction projects will be done if voters approve the bond issuance and subsequent tax increase.

Next week, district officials will meet with the public at four open houses to discuss boundary-change options.

While the Provo School District is projected to remain at about 13,000 students over the next 10 years, the location of the city's school-age population has shifted markedly due to a residential construction boom west of I-15 that has added thousands of new residents.

At the same time, the number of school-age children in areas of downtown and east Provo has decreased, said Sandy Packard, vice president of the school board.

Overcrowding has resulted because the geographic boundaries that determine which school children attend haven't been changed to correspond with growth.

Some of the options include closing Timpanogos and Grandview elementary schools, building an elementary school in the Lakeview neighborhood, which is in northwest Provo, and a middle school on the west side of Provo, Packard said.

Building an elementary school would cost $8 million to $10 million. The cost to build a middle school is $15 million to $18 million.

In addition, a list of school expansion and improvement projects will vie for bond money: An auditorium at Centennial Middle School, remodeling Provo High School, a new roof at Timpanogos High School, expansions at Provost and Sunset View elementary schools, replacing electric-heating systems with natural-gas heating systems in some schools, and new energy-efficient windows at some schools.

Principals have been told that money from the bond issuance probably will not pay for projects at the bottom of their schools' priority lists.

Schools representing each neighborhood in Provo would probably get at least one project from bond money. Residents in neighborhoods must feel like they are benefiting from the bond sale or they will not vote for it, Packard said.

The district has not yet selected a financial adviser to market the bonds. The bonds would be issued over 10 years, as the projects come up.

"For example, they approve the Lakeview school, but it's not to be built for four years, then it would be my recommendation that we market the bonds for four years" after the election, Smith said. "We have voter approval, but we don't have to pay interest for four years."

The district's last bond issuance — approved by voters in 1997 — was for $22 million. That was used to build Centennial Middle School and Spring Creek and Amelia Earhart elementary schools.

"There's about $33 million of debt still outstanding from those issues and prior issues," Smith said.

Moody's Investors Service most recently gave Provo School District a credit rating of A-1 "with a watch," Smith said, "which means they were thinking about downgrading us."

Moody's municipality ratings range from Aaa to C.

The district has been working to increase its fund balances and pay down debt to get a better credit rating, Smith said.

"We're fairly confident when we go out for another rating, they would remove the watch," he said.