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Sunnyside voters reject school bond

For the second time in less than a year, voters in the Sunnyside School District said no to a bond measure that would have upgraded facilities at the high school.

In last night's vote count, there were 1,269 votes (53.9 percent) in favor of the $1.9 million bond to improve the auditorium and replace the grandstands. There were 1,108 (46.61 percent) no votes.

Though a majority of yes votes, the margin failed to reach the 60 percent supermajority threshold required by state law.

With approximately 200 votes still to count, it is possible the district could see the yes vote percentage rise to 55 or 56 percent, but still well short of the supermajority.

The result was at least an improvement over a $3.95 million Sunnyside school bond vote last May that barely gained 50 percent approval. That one also included new grandstands, as well as significant athletic upgrades.

Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole said there likely won't be a third bond measure on the grandstands, which are 40 years old and are considered a liability risk by the district's insurer, Canfield and Associates.

"The (school) board's belief is that we needed a message from the community," Cole said. "And the general reaction (from the public) is that 50, then 54 percent approved."

The district's next step is to go back to the school board for direction on addressing the most urgent need, the grandstands.

"It's on the agenda for the next board meeting (March 22)," said Cole. "They're going to have to grapple with the issue that the grandstands aren't safe."

Among the issues is whether to leave the grandstands in place for the 1,800 or so spectators who will attend this year's graduation service. Late last summer district staff did shore up some of the grandstands, but it was not seen as a long term fix.

"The board's going to have to sort through all that," Cole said.

If, or when, the board replaces the grandstands, the next question will be covering the $1 million or so it will cost.

The district had pledged $1 million toward improvements during last spring's bond drive. As recently as last summer, the board discussed foregoing a bond vote this year in favor of applying the $1 million in hand toward the grandstands.

Whether it's the $1 million pledged last year, or other funds, next Thursday's school board meeting will look at the bottom line.

"They have to figure out how they're going to deal with it," said Cole. "There's been no conversation yet about cuts or funding sources."

One certainty is that improvements to the high school auditorium included in this year's failed bond measure will have to wait.

"Any improvements to the auditorium are going to have to be held off until we talk about modernizing the high school, which will happen in 2010," Cole said. "That's secondary right now to making a decision about the grandstands."

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