COOS BAY — Supporters of a $59.9 million Coos Bay School District bond initiative can breathe a sigh of relief Wednesday as election results for the Coos Bay BEST Bond were officially certified with the bond winning by 28 votes.
"It's a terrific day, the day before Thanksgiving especially, for the people who worked so hard on this campaign and for all the voters within the district as this will dramatically improve our schools," said BEST Bond Committee Chair James Martin.
Official results from the Nov. 7 election show 50.18 percent of the 7,918 ballots cast were in favor of the bond, while 49.92 percent voted it down, according to the Coos County Elections Office.
Vice Chairman of the Coos County Republican Party Ronald Wiggins, who organized an opposition protest against the bond in October said there are two reasons why the bond passed.
"Only 45 percent of registered voters voted in this off year for an election," said Wiggins. "If more voters had voted, there might have been a different outcome.
"Also, there were registered voters who voted that are exempt from paying any property taxes because they live on the [Coquille] Indian reservation. They get to use our public schools without paying anything toward property taxes. This is not right. It doesn't make sense but it's the law."
Ballot measure 6-166 is intended to improve buildings in the Coos Bay School District.
Most pressingly, the money would be used to rebuild the Eastside Elementary School and provide the district with a safer location to house the 600 children at Blossom Gulch. The elementary was built on fill dirt in a tsunami inundation zone and has been sinking for decades, crushing pipes and separating stairs from doorways.
As previously reported by The World, Blossom Gulch is the most problematic building in the Coos Bay School District. It was built on the former site of “Blossom’s Logging Camp” in 1954, a marsh that was packed with fill dirt. Not only does the building hold 600 children, but because of to failing foundations the hallways don’t sit flat, stairs are separating from the pavement, and pipes are being crushed.
In April, The World followed parent volunteer Kevin Rhoades around Madison Elementary. In the morning on the days he volunteers, as Rhoades parks his van he remembers to send a text to the secretary asking her to open the front door. He has sent that text every day for the past eight years.
Asking the secretary to open the door, before he labors into his wheelchair to head up to the building, is only one of the many obstacles he has adapted to overcome as a parent volunteer for the Coos Bay School District, where none of the buildings are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I don't want to be the guinea pig anymore,” Rhoades said in a previous interview. “But if I can show you how hard it is for someone in a wheelchair to get around, if that opens doors for other people like me, if that convinces voters that the bond on the ballot needs to be passed, I'll be the guinea pig again.”
Other problems he faces include not being able to get around the school library, where he volunteers much of his time. Not only that, but when he brings bus notes to teachers, he can’t always get into the classroom and relies on students to take the notes to their teachers.
The first step, now that the bond has passed, is the architecture work for final designs. Once the contracts are complete, then the district must obtain building permits. Martin said the district hopes to start construction in the last part of 2018.