Blossom Gulch Elementary

The Coos Bay BEST Bond, if passed, will provide students at Blossom Gulch a new school on the other side of town.

COOS BAY — The community is holding its breath as election results for the Coos Bay BEST Bond are put on hold.

On Tuesday, The World reported the tug of war between voters starting at 8 p.m. when the “no” votes were ahead. That all changed at 10 p.m., with all eight precincts reporting, when results showed 50.18 percent voted "yes" and 49.82 voted "no" with 8,604 ballots cast.

Just like the election in May, the votes were too close to call.

Voters won’t know the final election results until either Nov. 22 or 27.

“I’m cautiously optimistic right now,” said school district superintendent, Bryan Trendell. “I think we knew it was going to be close.”

According to Coos County Clerk Debbie Heller on Wednesday morning, voters had 14 days following the election to resolve ballot issues. Those issues include unsigned ballots and signature concerns, all of which must be reconciled by 5 p.m. on Nov. 21.

Not only that, but big counties like Multnomah and Lane send election officials to the post offices to collect any ballots still in the mail system so they can be sent to Coos County within the next 14 days.

"That happened last night at 8 p.m.," Heller said in a previous interview. "So they will be notifying counties that they have ballots to mail to them. We have 'clean up,' which is my own terminology, to get these ballots in or fixed in the next 14 days and 21 days to certify an election. The earliest I could certify is Nov. 22 and the latest date is Nov. 27. We have holidays there, so it will be done either the 22nd or the 27th depending on how much I have to do."

An automatic recount doesn't happen unless the final result is within one fifth of one percent. Right now, the results are not within that margin.

Tug of war

As the remaining votes are processed, school board member and BEST Bond Committee Chair James Martin is encouraged by ballots already counted.

“This is following the pattern, to some degree, of May,” he said. “At this point in time then, we were behind significantly when the first report came out and then made up most of the ground when the last ballots were counted. We have a little bit of a lead right now, but I don’t think anybody is feeling confident. We’re trying not to get our hopes up. We have to wait until everything is final.”

He added that of course he and the district would rather have the answer now, as many voters would, but “we’ve been through this before. It’s less frustrating because we’ve waited then, so we can wait again.”

Martin understands the tug of war with voters right now.

“I think it being this close reflects people making tough choices between priorities and vision of what they see in the community and what exactly their money is going toward,” he said.

Coos Bay School Board Chairman Adrian DeLeon admitted that he is on edge right now while he waits for the final election results.

“This is an opportunity to make a turn-around for our area,” he said. “If we get our schools built, it will attract more professionals. We were hoping for better numbers and it is a bit disconcerting for it to be this close. From a board member’s perspective, we want to do our best to help all the kids and we can’t do that if they are sitting around in buildings where they are too hot or too cold.”

What’s at stake?

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. Blossom Gulch 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 due 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 Rhoads around Madison Elementary. In the morning on the days he volunteers, as Rhoads 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 next step

Now, both the voters and the school district are faced with the waiting game. Not only that, but the district is bracing for both outcomes.

If the bond passes

“If it is approved, then the next step is to start preparing the request for proposals, which is the first step in the public contracting process,” Martin said.

The first RFP 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.

“There are standalone projects we can get started much faster,” he said. “Those projects include the roof or heating and ventilation systems at Sunset Middle School that we can put out pretty promptly.”

If the bond passes, DeLeon also plans on making sure that the school board and district ensure the public that “we’re being good stewards of their money.”

“None of this bond money is going to line the pockets of the administration,” he said. “It will go toward constructing buildings. That is legally what it can do and all it can do.”

If the bond fails

“If this bond doesn’t pass, we go back to the drawing board,” Trendell said in a previous interview. “We will have to prioritize and see what our next move will be if we come back to voters in May with something different on the ballot.”

If the bond fails, the children at Blossom Gulch will have to be moved.

In a moment of frustration, Trendell looked back at the two other times the district put the bond out for voter approval.

“The first time it failed in 2007, I understand that one,” he said on Tuesday. “That was a perfect storm of the economy going in the tank and really not a great time to float a bond measure because people were trying to scramble and survive. Now our economy has improved, not to where we’d like it to be, but there’s been good growth in our community.”

When the district put the bond forward in the May election, Trendell felt that the close call then showed that the community was willing to pass it but needed more information first.

“We’re on the cusp of something the community will support,” he said. “Now, what can we put to the community that they will vote yes for? Because those needs that are listed are still there and we don’t have the money in our operating budget to take care of those needs. We could chip away at it over the next 30 years but we’d be throwing money away at old buildings.”

At the BEST Bond Committee gathering on Tuesday night, attendee Carmen Matthews was still hopeful the final numbers would turn in their favor.

"This is our turn to do what we want to do for our community," he said. "It's as simple as that. I understand people don't want to pay extra taxes, but for a cause you can experience and benefit from this is the best tax money you can spend. Period."

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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