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Schools may get $300 million in state bond aid

Smaller amounts proposed for regional projects, including $7.5 million for Willamette Falls riverwalk.


Oregon lawmakers, as one of their final actions of their 2015 session, will consider approval of $300 million in state bonds for seismic reinforcements and other building improvements in public schools.

Also among the proposed bond allocations are $45 million for nonroad projects under Connect Oregon, $7.5 million for the Willamette Falls project near Oregon City, and smaller amounts for projects around Portland and Eastern Oregon.

Details were unveiled Friday as lawmakers sought to wind down the session, likely early next week.

Bonds also will pay for the state's $200 million share of the Knight Cancer Center at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland — lawmakers had committed that money previously for the project, which has reached its $500 million match — and a $17.7 million state share of a multimillion-dollar replacement of the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland.

No money is proposed for seismic reinforcement and other renovations at the Capitol, which had a total price tag of $337 million, $34.5 million of which came from a bond issue two years ago for design and engineering.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, was its most prominent champion, and called it “a devastating loss.”

“But it is not my style to hold up a session over one issue, even one as important as this,” he said Friday.

The initial request was for $161 million in this two-year budget cycle, with the rest to follow in 2017-19. Courtney said lawmakers have been warned to act for more than 20 years, dating back to the 1993 earthquake that damaged the rotunda and closed it for two years.

“Now is not the time to greenlight this project,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, although she held out the prospect that lawmakers could do so in their short 2016 session.

School work

Both Courtney and Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day claimed victory for the school bond allocation.

Of the $300 million proposed, $175 million is proposed for seismic work and $125 million in other work at schools. Oregon voters authorized seismic bonds for schools back in 2002, and general bond aid for schools in 2010.

About 1,000 school buildings were rated at very high risk of collapsing in a 2006 state survey funded by the 2002 bonds. So far, 34 buildings have been upgraded in Oregon’s 197 districts at a total cost of $33.7 million.

“We know there will be a major quake,” Courtney said. “We know too many of our schools will collapse. These funds will help us fix our schools. These funds will save children’s lives.”

Courtney had proposed $200 million last summer.

Ferrioli had proposed $300 million — and that lawmakers should do nothing with the Capitol project until all school seismic work is done.

“Senate Republicans have long advocated for funding our schools first,” Ferrioli said. “Today we were able to give them a boost in funding that gives Oregon safer schools and additional resources in the classroom.”

The $125 million for state bond aid to school districts has been in the works since voters approved such aid through a ballot measure back in 2010.

“What we hope for is that if the Legislature starts this program, we stick with it for at least 10 years, so that it gets us started on the problem,” said Dave Krumbein, a Pendleton School Board member and president of the Oregon School Boards Association.

“We also think we ought to develop the whole school, not just fix it so that it doesn’t fall down.”

Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, sponsored the legislation for school construction aid. Devlin said Oregon does have enough bond capacity to aid public schools and carry out the first phase of the Capitol renovation.

The building, Oregon’s third, was completed in 1938. Its office wings were built in the mid-1970s and were refurbished in 2007 and 2008.

The vote on adding the Capitol project was three in favor and five against on a legislative budget subcommittee.

“I always try to leave a place better than I found it,” Courtney said. “If this group of legislators will not try to make it better, I can only hope that some future group will try to make it better than this group.”

Other bonds

The $45 million from bonds backed by Oregon Lottery proceeds will be the sixth round for Connect Oregon, which pays for transportation projects other than highways and bridges.

Since 2005, lawmakers have allocated $182 million in lottery-backed bonds for such projects, which are ineligible for funding by fuel taxes and license and registration fees. All projects require local government or industry matches, which will go up to 30 percent in this budget cycle.

The projects are selected by the Oregon Transportation Commission after multiple reviews.

Lottery-backed bonds will provide $7.5 million toward the Willamette Falls scenic riverwalk project proposed near Oregon City. Estimates are $650,000 for design and $10 million for construction.

It’s a joint project by Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the state.

Several smaller projects around Portland and Eastern Oregon will share in the $180 million in lottery-backed bonds, $11.7 million of which is earmarked for water projects — and some in the Umatilla Basin.

Smaller allocations

Smaller allocations of money from state lottery-backed bonds are proposed for these projects:

•Trailhead for Forest Park in Portland, $1.5 million.

•Expansion of Japanese Garden in Portland, $1.5 million.

•Hunziker development project at SW Hunziker and Wall streets in Tigard, $1.5 million.

•New building for Open School run by Open Meadow in Portland, $1 million.

•New building for Boys & Girls Club in the Rockwood area of Gresham, $1 million.

•New building for Faubion Elementary School in Portland, a joint project of Portland Public Schools and Concordia University, $750,000.

•Renovation of headquarters building for Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, $600,000.

•Early childhood learning center at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, $1.6 million.

•Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center at the Port of Umatilla in Hermiston, $1.5 million.

pwong@PamplinMedia.com

(503) 385-4899 or 363-0888

twitter.com/capitolwong

For a link to Senate President Peter Courtney's statement on the rejection of state bond money for the Capitol project:

pdf>www.oregonlegislature.gov/courtney/Documents/ST-capitolproject.pdf


Adds state pledges for the Knight Cancer Center and Multnomah County Courthouse replacement. Adds link to Courtney statement on Capitol project, JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT