Citizens’ committee would oversee Tahoma bond

If the Tahoma construction bond passes the district would form a citizen’s oversight committee similar to the Tahoma 2000 committee

The Tahoma School District will facilitate a citizens’ bond oversight committee to oversee the implementation of the construction bond measure projects, including construction of a new Tahoma High School, should the bond measure pass in November.

The bond, with a price tag of $195 million, calls for the construction of a new Tahoma High School, and other projects associated with realigning other schools in the district like renovating Lake Wilderness Elementary School and converting classrooms to make them grade level appropriate, as well as projects to make all the district’s schools warm, safe, and dry for students.

District officials predict that the construction and realignment projects would solve the district’s overcrowding problems and would allow the district to eliminate all portable classrooms.

The district initiated a similar citizens’ bond oversight committee, which became known as the Tahoma 2000 committee, after passing the 1997 bond measure of $45 million that renovated and expanded the current high school and paid for Tahoma Junior High to be built, among others.

In a press release published by the district dated Sept. 6, 1996 it was estimated that the bond projects would meet the district’s needs through 2005 when student enrollment was expected to reach 6,745.

Actual enrollment in 2005 was 6,730 and as of Oct. 1, 2012 district enrollment was up to 7,570.

The Tahoma 2000 committee was chaired by longtime Maple Valley resident Gary Habenicht and was made up of 22 other community members.

The committee was charged with conducting an ongoing review of how funds were spent and met on a regular basis until the final projects were completed in 2005.

“It was kind of a macro view,” Habenicht said in a phone interview. “The primary focus of the mission was to do whatever we could as an oversight committee in having the bond issue come in at budget or under budget, to keep the public informed as to what was going on, and to maintain a cogent set of minutes.”

Habenicht added that the committee was also involved in interviewing and hiring project managers and throughout the process committee members would visit the project sites and meet with the project managers to make sure they understood what was going on and why.

Initially, Habenicht said, the committee met every two weeks, then met once a month with additional meetings as needed.

“When it was all said and done the total package came in under budget even though it took longer to accomplish,” Habenicht said.

Habenicht said that he felt that the committee was very effective and accomplished it’s goals of developing a budget process, overseeing the projects and asking questions.

“I think there was a significant amount of due diligence,’ Habenicht said. “The reality is that they (committee members) stayed the course and fulfilled their responsibilities very well. By my recollection it was a great experience.”