Questions & Answers

Kelso School District is committed to thoughtful examination of all bond-related decisions. District leaders take very seriously the recommendations of industry experts and feedback from our community when making important choices about schools. Safety, optimal learning environments, and responsible use of taxpayer dollars are among the primary considerations of district leaders when making decisions and recommendations about new and renovated schools.

Post-Election Q&A

The questions below reflect the most common questions that have emerged to date after the passage of the bond, including those that relate to the recent proposal to adjust the bond scope.

For additional information, you are invited to attend an open house on January 9, 2019, in the Kelso High School commons area. If you have a question that isn’t on our FAQ list, there’s a form below you can use or email us at

Questions About Building Design & Construction

Why are the most recent cost projections for the three new elementary schools approximately $20 million over initial estimates?
The overage is due to considerable cost escalations resulting from rising construction prices and extremely poor soil conditions that require more robust foundations to meet modern codes.

Didn’t pre-bond planning estimates allow extra funds for unforeseen challenges?
Yes, pre-bond planning included contingency funds. The escalating construction costs and soil stabilization costs far exceeded what was planned.

Why the change in plans from building three elementary schools to two?
Along with the unprecedented rise of labor and materials costs, geological tests at both the Wallace and Lexington sites have returned soil and ground conditions that require a much more robust foundation in order to meet today’s building standards for public spaces. (See questions under “Geology” for more detailed explanations on soil issues.) For this reason, we’re considering combining two of the three new elementary schools into one larger school at the Lexington site in order to meet the priorities of our bond measure.

Why such a large school?
The current plan accesses additional matching funding from the state above and beyond the bond funding. In order to qualify for additional funding and maximize improvements for students, the plan for the combined, larger elementary school is the most fiscally responsible option that allows us to align with the bond measure most closely.

Can we wait a few years and then try and build the three schools?
This option could work but only if the construction market drastically slows down in the next few years, which is a big risk and not expected to occur. In fact, construction costs are predicted to continue to rise, making construction potentially more expensive the longer we wait.

Why not turn Lexington into a middle school and create elementary schools out of the current middle schools?
Additional costly modifications would need to be made to each of the middle schools to create usable elementary schools. The current plan accesses additional matching funding from the state above and beyond the bond funding. In order to qualify for additional funding and maximize improvements for students, the plan for the combined, larger elementary school is the most fiscally responsible option that allows us to align with the bond measure most closely.

Further, turning a middle school into elementary schools would not save funds and would add considerable lag time to the process. The location of Coweeman Middle School allows for shared use of the CTE program between the middle school and high school.

Why not utilize the Beacon Hill site to build the large school?
The Lexington site is larger and the location works better for a larger school due to traffic considerations and proximity of the students attending. Also, to receive maximum matching dollars from the state for school construction, the plan must combine two schools into one larger school. The larger school will still incorporate small class sizes, optimal program availability, and enhanced safety and security.

Why not remodel Beacon Hill and still build Lexington (650 students) and Wallace (450 students)?
This option would not result in a cost savings and could even increase costs. Because of its design and current condition, the cost to modernize Beacon Hill would likely be just as much, and maybe more, than a newly constructed school.

How will the cafeteria function with so many students?
The Kelso School District is working closely with a food services expert to make sure the cafeteria functions at an optimal level. That plan isn’t finalized, but most likely, there will be multiple lines and lunch periods to help students get their meals quickly and efficiently.

When does construction start?
We are currently in the process of creating and refining design plans with our architects. The current schedule is for early site work/soil stabilization to start in May. Construction will follow early in the summer of 2019.

Why does the plan for Wallace have a low slope roof?
Low slope roofs with quality materials provide a long-lasting and durable roofing system for years to come. The primary reason for the low-slope roof is to create the most resilient roofing system in the most cost-effective manner and this option provides both.

Questions About Student & Family Needs, Safety, & Well-Being

Are safety and small class sizes being considered in the plans for a 950-student school?
The plan for the larger school still prioritizes small class sizes, optimal program availability, and enhanced safety and security. New schools incorporate state-of-the-art designs and infrastructure to create optimal learning environments for students.

Is the play area at the Lexington site large enough for 950 students?
We are currently looking at how best to address the play area with architectural playground consultants, with considerations to the storm water retention area, and wetlands impacts. We will provide the most suitable age-appropriate play area(s) the site will allow.

Questions About Geology

Why test the soil? And how did the soil study uncover the need for a different foundation?
Detailed and site-specific geotechnical engineering studies (including borings and laboratory testing of geotechnical samples) were conducted to determine soil stability. The major finding from the study was that existing soil conditions require deep soil stabilization tactics—occurring 40-50 feet below ground—and an alternate building foundation design in order to meet new state standards.

New seismic design requirements adopted by the State of Washington from the 2015 International Building Code, require the use of both deep foundations and structural soil improvements to mitigate the potential 3-4 inches of ground liquefaction which may occur during an earthquake.

Is the soil stabilization and alternate building foundation required by state law/building code?
Building codes regulate seismic design requirements, but do not dictate specific types of foundations. Industry experts, in this case licensed geotechnical engineers—based on their site specific geotechnical investigation and report—will provide the licensed structural engineer with foundation design criteria that will meet building code requirements. The licensed structural engineer will then design the foundation system to meet the foundation design criteria and all building code requirements.

Were the soils tested during the bond process?
Detailed and site-specific geotechnical engineering studies (including borings and laboratory testing of geotechnical samples) were conducted to determine soil stability. This process was conducted as soon as bond funds were available and prior to the start of building structural design, as is typical protocol. Because geotechnical engineering studies are expensive, in order to most responsibly utilize taxpayer dollars, the study was not conducted until the bond and bond plans were approved by voters.

Questions About Traffic

Has the district planned for the large amount of traffic in the Lexington neighborhood?
Yes. Currently Integrus (the district’s design consultant) is working with civil and traffic engineers to ensure adequate drop off and pick areas, along with traffic routing to and from the drop off and pickup areas.


Where can I get the latest information about the bond project?

I have more questions, how do I submit them?
You can email your questions to

Pre-Election Q&A

These questions were asked before the February 2018 election.

Questions About the Plan

What was the focus of the Facility Improvement Team in prioritizing and selecting projects?
The focus of the Facility Improvement Team (FIT) was to address safety and security issues within the schools; major mechanical, plumbing, electrical, heating/ventilation and structural issues needing immediate attention, and to address projected growth and overcrowding at schools.

How has the school district engaged the community in this planning process?
A nine month planning process was conducted with school staff, parents, community and school board members. Two significant community and staff surveys were conducted. In February 2017 input was gathered regarding our facilities and lead to the development of our facility plan. In October of 2017, another survey was conducted to gather input on the proposed plan to provide feedback to the school board before the plan was approved.

What factors contributed to the need to increase capacity at the elementary level?
All of our elementary schools are currently at or above capacity. This is largely the result of state-funded class size reductions in grades K-3. We have added over 20 new classrooms in the past four years. Our enrollment has also been climbing the past four years and is projected to climb by a few hundred students over the next 3-5 years.

How is safety and security being addressed in this facility plan?
Each of the schools has specific projects identified to upgrade and improve safety and security measures. Depending on the needs of each school, these projects may include video surveillance systems, entry/access controls, communication systems (including fire alarm, intercom and telephone systems), exterior lighting, and renovation of main entry ways.

How will parking and traffic concerns be addressed in this plan?
Parking and traffic flow issues occur at a number of our schools, many of them significant. This is largely the result of a greater number of families transporting their children to school than in the past. We are currently negotiating and purchasing properties around certain schools and developing plans with our architects and engineers to create parking expansion and improved traffic flow.

How will this plan meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities?
Once the bond is approved, architects and design professionals will work with program staff to design spaces that will accommodate the diverse needs of students with disabilities. We currently have a number of specialized programs throughout the school districts, and specific program can be developed with the construction of three new elementary school and the addition of spaces at other schools.

How does this facility plan address school climate conditions that provides a comfortable learning and teaching environment?
The current state of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) conditions were examined at all buildings. The plan addresses this need significantly by constructing three new schools with extremely outdated systems; and, replacing boilers, ventilators, and parts of systems at other schools in need of work.

Shouldn’t we remodel the three schools rather than build new?
It is important to note that buildings constructed more than 40-50 years ago typically cost more money to remodel to comply with new building codes (such as earthquake codes) than to rebuild. The district has always retained the option of remodeling when and where it makes sense, and did that with the last bond when modernizing Kelso High School and Barnes Elementary School.

Why can’t we replace more schools or complete more projects?
The state sets a limit on the amount of money that a local school district can have in debt. That amount is 5% of our assessed valuation, which is slightly over $2 billion. Though our facility needs are much larger than the proposed bond, we are limited by the amount that we can carry in debt. This is typically the reason why many small school districts like Kelso are only able to go out for a major bond every 20 years.

What is the plan for the Catlin site?
In order for the school district to receive the state match for the Lexington site ($11 million), we are required to pull one school off-line for non K-12 use. Possible future uses of Catlin include early learning and preschool programs; partnerships with other community and social service agencies; relocation of school district operations; or, because it’s in a commercial area, it could be sold.

Why is the bond measure needed to repair, renovate, and replace schools?
Due to the limited amount of resources the school district has in its annual general operating budget, only general maintenance and upkeep can be provided given the resources required to adequately educate our students. The State of Washington also does not fund capital facility projects specifically, and requires the local school district to raise monies through bond measures to build and renovate school facilities. The State will provide some “matching” funds to local school districts to help offset the costs of construction, but the local voters must approve a bond in order for this money to be received.

Why doesn’t the state replace and fix our schools?
The state of Washington recognizes school districts as independent local governments, and thus requires them, as it does cities and counties, to pay for infrastructure and facilities. The state does provide assistance to local school districts to help offset some of the costs associated with construction should the local voters approve a facilities bond.

Why is work to the stadium and fields being done, when other projects could be considered?
In Kelso, in addition to our own school use, our athletic facilities are used by our community groups year round. We understand the importance of our athletic facilities for community use, and we desire to continue to provide this great opportunity. This opportunity creates long-term maintenance needs in order to keep our athletic facilities together. These projects will create years and years of additional participation, and will expand their use even more for the benefit of our children and community.

How much will this project cost?
It is estimated that the cost of this project will be $5 a month, or $60 a year, for the owner of a house assessed at $200,000. The average assessed home in Kelso is $160,000.

How much state assistance is Kelso School District receiving?
If local voters approve the $98.6 million facility bond on February 13, 2018, the Kelso School District will receive approximately $40 million in State assistance. The $40 million is almost the equivalent of the cost to replace one and a half of the three elementary schools we are replacing. It is a significant contribution from Washington State.

How were project costs determined to ensure that all of the projects listed will be completed?
Our construction industry experts have costed out our project with contingencies and escalation costs to address rising construction costs over the next 3-5 years. We believe that we will be able to complete all identified projects in the plan, and are committed to making that happen.

Questions About the Bond & Levy

What happens if the bond measure isn’t approved?
Without the funds to provide an ideal teaching and learning environment for our students and staff, the most urgent needs will be met the best way possible with the limited resources available. In order to adequately maintain and build facilities, seeking voter approved bonds is the way to accomplish this.

What is the difference between a Levy and a Bond?
School Districts have two separate funding streams, levies and bonds, which are specifically designated for different educational purposes. Bonds build buildings and levies are for learning expenditures. State funding, such as McCleary, does not fund school construction, but does provide matching funds if local school districts pass a bond. The Kelso School District bond will generate approximately $40 million in extra funding, essentially the cost of building almost 1.5 new elementary schools.

What is a bond and how does it work?
When voters approve a bond, they are basically giving the school district authority to borrow money through a municipal bond market and then repay the money to investors with interest, using money collected through property taxes. This is similar to how homes are purchased by borrowing money from the bank. Bonds are usually paid over a period of 15-20 years and require approval by super majority (60% of the voters). The last bond was approved by Kelso voters in 2001. This bond will continue the Kelso community’s support of rebuilding and modernizing school facilities over time.

What is a Levy and how does it work?
When a school district places a levy measure before voters, it is asking for the authority to collect a specific amount of money from local property taxes for a set period of time; usually two to four years. When it expires, the programs funded by that levy will no longer have that money. Like a magazine subscription, it needs to be renewed; usually by returning to the voters and asking for another one to replace it. The amount of the levy does not increase if property values increase as it is approved for a set amount of money. Levies are approved if the ballot measure receives support by simple majority (at least 50%).

Help me understand the new McCleary education funding plan and how it impacts local taxes.
The state’s four-year implementation of McCleary does impact local taxpayers. The first change will be an increase by the state in the State School Levy of approximately $0.92 in cents in Kelso starting in 2018. The State School Levy is collected by the state and is used to pay for required basic education expenditures.

Beginning in 2019, our local Education Programs and Operations Levy will fall from $3.89 in 2017 to approximately $1.50. This levy is designated for learning expenditures and those activities not fully funded by the state, and currently funded by the district’s expiring levy. These funds cannot be used for school construction. Should the bond measure pass, net local taxes will increase approximately $5 a month for a homeowner of a home assessed at $200,000.

Learn more about the breakdown of taxes on our funding page.

How will the school district engage the community for the upcoming levy and bond election?
The Kelso School District is only able to provide the community with specific information related to the bond and levy propositions before voters on February 13, 2018. The district plans to continue providing information through additional community/staff meetings, this website, parent newsletters, and a district wide mailing to all citizens in January. The advocacy campaign for the bond/levy will be conducted by a citizens group, Citizens for Kelso Schools, and will include campaign signs, phone calling, doorbelling, and mailers.

Questions About What Happens Next

Will staff and community be included in the school design decisions?
Yes. It is an important component of the design phase of a new school to gather as much feedback from staff and community as necessary to meet the unique needs of that smaller community. Architects and other design professionals lead this work, typically through face-to-face and community wide engagements.

Will we hire local contractors to do the facility work?
State law requires that all construction bids be awarded to the lowest, most responsible bidder. With that said, many school construction projects over the past 20 years have been performed by our local contractors. We have a number of local contractors that have performed great work, and provide outstanding service to our school district. Our desire is to include them in this facility work.

What is the timeline for construction?
To properly receive staff and community input and to design a new school takes 12-18 months. Adding at least a year to construct a new school, would place our first new schools being ready for occupation in the Fall of 2021 at the earliest. Anticipated timeline for all projects would be by Fall of 2022.

Will we utilize energy efficient and “green” technology in the new schools?
During the design phase of the new schools and most projects, we will explore all forms of construction options that increase the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the systems which run the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and heating systems. This exploration will also include the construction materials used to build the schools. In the end, cost/benefit decisions and value engineering work will determine the best approach in what we utilize.

How will school boundaries be impacted?
It is likely that school boundaries will need to be adjusted as we build a new elementary school on the north end of the school district in Lexington. However, altering school boundaries is a process that usually takes a few years to implement due to the “grandfathering” of keeping students at their current school. Our desire is to keep students with their peers and teachers until they complete K-5 schooling, if that’s what the family would like.

How might current Beacon Hill students be impacted by boundaries?
Students currently attending Beacon Hill will move to the new Lexington elementary school (once built) while the new Beacon Hill school is in construction. Students residing in the Beacon Hill area will attend the new Beacon Hill school when it’s ready.

How might current Catlin students be impacted by boundaries?
Current Catlin students living on Columbia Heights and West Kelso would attend the new Beacon Hill school. Students living in east Kelso (east of the Cowlitz River) would likely attend Barnes or Wallace elementary schools over time as they are the closest neighborhood schools.

How might current Barnes students be impacted by boundaries?
Students living in the Pleasant Hill, Ostrander, and Headquarters area would likely be moved to the new Lexington elementary school, over time, as it will be the closest neighborhood school.

How might middle school students be impacted by boundaries?
We do not anticipate secondary boundaries changing as the current elementary schools would continue to feed into the current middle schools.

Where will students go when smaller construction projects takes place at schools?
For many of the smaller projects, students will remain at the school during construction. Some projects can be completed while school is in session, while others will require work over the summers.

How will staff be assigned to schools being rebuilt?
We believe that the staff at the new schools will remain largely, if not completely, intact at the schools they currently work. We will work together closely with our teacher’s association to assist with this transition.

Where will students attend classes while the new schools are being built?
The plan is to design and build the new Lexington and Wallace elementary schools first.

Wallace students will remain in the current building as the new school will be constructed behind the current existing school. Once the new school is built, the old school will be torn down to create parking and drop-off/pick-up locations.

When the new Lexington school is completed, students and staff from Beacon Hill will move there.

Beacon Hill Elementary will be designed and constructed following the move to Lexington. Once completed, Catlin Elementary will be vacated, with staff and students being moved to Beacon Hill.

How does the school district currently maintain its schools?
Since the last bond measure was approved in 2001, the school district has spent over $13 million dollars on general maintenance and upkeep of our facilities. This amount does not include costs for maintenance or custodial salaries. These monies come from the annual general fund operating budget, and a portion of the annual education program and operations levy approved by voters. Bond money cannot be used for general maintenance and upkeep and requires use of the annual budget.

How will the school district maintain their facilities moving forward?
With three new schools being built, the school district will be required to maintain these schools under new State requirements meant to ensure their longevity beyond 40 years. We will continue to use limited annual general fund monies and levy dollars to provide general maintenance and upkeep, and fund small capital projects.