Bickleton plans school makeover


The Bickleton School District's future, portrayed in this artist's sketch, includes one school house for grades kindergarten through 12. The district will break ground on the new building next spring.

BICKLETON - Bickleton's newly minted graduating class of 2010 will be the last to complete all four years in the current high school building.

That's because the school district will break ground on a new K-12 school building next spring.

The new building is funded through a nearly $9 million bond that voters approved by about a 4-to-1 margin - nearly 80 percent in favor and 20 percent no. On the same ballot, 80 percent of the voters also approved the district's first maintenance and operations levy.

The 200 or so voters who call Bickleton and vicinity home will get a big help in paying for the bond through property taxes paid by power utilities that have wind farms throughout the area.

"It's huge," Superintendent Ric Palmer said of the wind farm impact. "Without it we wouldn't be having this (new school) discussion."

Palmer says each wind turbine represents $660,000 in assessed tax valuation. Multiply that by the 300 or 400 wind machines up and running, and Bickleton's finally in position to upgrade its school buildings for the long term.

Palmer said power companies envision 1,500 wind machines in the Bickleton area - putting the school district in a position to set aside enough reserves to have the cash on hand to pay for classroom additions.

The bond, Bickleton's first since 1960, will replace school buildings that are failing, Palmer said.

The existing elementary and high school buildings are around 50 years old, with failing electrical, heating and septic systems. Palmer said children keep their coats on in the elementary school classrooms because the heating system can only warm the interior to 50 degrees.

The new school building will house all Bickleton students in grades kindergarten through 12. It will sit near the site of the current high school building, which will be torn down except for the high school gym.

Following an arrangement similar to that at Trout Lake, the new school will be built around the existing gym.

The new construction will also include a gym, giving the Bickleton School District two gyms.

That means four basketball teams (boys and girls junior high, boys and girls high school) will no longer have to rotate around one gym. The situation had gotten to the point that some middle schoolers weren't getting home from hoops practice until 8 p.m. Others had to practice at 5 a.m. to share the one gym.

Pirate basketball games will be played in the new gym, hopefully in time for the 2010-11 season.

The old brick elementary school house across the street will be torn down as part of the change coming to the Bickleton School District. The high school will also be leveled - except for the gym.

The upgrade means not only new, modern classrooms, but the one school house system means students, parents and staff no longer have to cross the Mabton Highway to go from the elementary to the high school or vice versa.

With work set to start next spring, the hope is to have the new school building complete next October or November for the 2010-11 school year.


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