Puyallup schools seek ‘critical’ infrastructure upgrades with capital levy

The sixth-largest school district in Washington hopes voters will finally approve its proposal to restore, improve and replace its failing systems and infrastructure.

Ballots in Pierce County for the Feb. 13 special election will include Prop. 1, a capital levy for Puyallup School District.

Superintendent Dr. John Polm notes the community has not passed a bond or a capital levy for nine years, explaining that the capital levy failed twice in previous elections.

"2015 was the last successful bond. And since that time, we’ve had a lot of challenges with aging facilities, infrastructure, and different systems within our school district," said Polm. 

There are 60 buildings in the district, and more than half are schools. Officials said pretty much all of them need to be fixed.

"Things like your water heater, your heating system, those things just age over time. And we have a big need right now," said Brady Martin, the district’s director of capital projects.

"There’s only so many band-aids and things that you can do to systems before they fail. And we are there with a lot of our buildings right now," said Laura Marcoe, assistant superintendent of business and support services.

Unexpected repairs continue happening at schools throughout the district. Woodland Elementary School was one of three schools in the district that closed for several days during the January cold snap, after pipes to the 30-year-old sprinkler systems burst.

"It actually happened to crack and split apart on a mainline, and it caused the building to flood and took out of commission nine classroom spaces here at [Woodland Elementary]. We had to close the building for four days while we were extracting water and drying the building out," said Martin. "These are the types of things that happen when you have an old building. Things fail unexpectedly. And there’s a lot of systems that we’ve had to kind of band-aid together to keep them going as long as we possibly can."

The district identified 906 projects to restore, improve and replace throughout the district. The capital needs for those projects exceed $320 million. 

District leaders said they identified the most critical needs to increase efficiency in classrooms, at schools, and district sites. Those critical needs are addressed in Prop. 1, a capital levy totaling $175 million.

"This capital levy isn’t about building new schools, it’s not about raising salaries for employees, but it is about repairing, restoring the infrastructure that we have," said Polm.

"We’re not even asking for the Cadillac of classrooms. We’re asking for just being able to provide efficient classrooms for our students and staff," said Marcoe. 

45% of the funds will pay for the following building improvements:

  • HVAC
  • Lighting and electrical
  • Roof repairs and replacements
  • Portable improvements
  • Interior and exterior improvements
  • Flooring
  • ADA accessibility improvements
  • Elevator replacement

18% of the levy will fund technology upgrades, 10% goes to safety, 16% is dedicated to site and traffic ensuring safe access to district sites, and 11% would support outdoor learning spaces and accessibility for all students.

"This levy would be about an 87-cent increase per thousand dollars of assessed value. So, for an average homeowner, that’s about $36.25 per month," explained Marcoe. "Essentially, it restores our tax rate to what it was about three years ago. Since we haven’t passed a capital levy or bond in almost a decade, our tax rate decreased because of that."

Capital funds from the successful 2015 bond are running out. If the proposed levy fails, the superintendent explained money that supports classrooms will be affected.

"We’re expecting capital funds to be largely depleted in the 2026 school year. So, this capital measure will enable us to provide funding to really keep from shifting our funds from our general fund, or from our classrooms really, into our capital projects," said Polm.

With the capital levy failing twice in previous elections, the question becomes will this third time be the charm? Hoping to increase their chances, district leaders said they expanded communications, virtual forums, and online campaigns to better educate the community about the proposal.

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"We’re at a time of critical juncture where we need that funding, or we’re going to start seeing more and more systems fail," said Marcoe. "We don’t have any other options but to go to our community for this type of funding."