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Camas Schools to buy former Underwriters Laboratories property

The Camas School District will own the building and surrounding property that previously belonged to UL, which moved to Vancouver earlier this year.

The consumer electronics testing, evaluation and certification service, formerly known as Underwriters Laboratories, opened a 114,800-square-foot office in Camas in 1994. The district will purchase the building at 2600 N.W. Lake Road, and nearly 58 acres surrounding it. The school board approved the $12 million purchase at Monday’s school board meeting.

“We’re purchasing it first for the property,” Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “It’s adjacent to (Skyridge Middle School). It’s where students are. It’s pretty exciting to have that.”

Money for the purchase comes from a few sources: $3.3 million from impact fees, $3.7 million from the district’s capital projects fund and $5 million will come from a non-voted limited general obligation bond, which the district anticipates paying back using state forest funds, future impact fees, or in a future voter-approved bond.

The district finished out this school year with around 7,200 students, Snell said. Growth projections for the district anticipate a baseline enrollment of 8,200 in 2025, or up to 8,900 students in that same time frame if all possible residential zoning is developed. The same projections have Camas enrollment at 8,500 in 2030 as a baseline, and 9,400 in 2030 with a full build-out.

“We’re in a good position right now in terms of student enrollment,” Snell said. “There’s not a press to do something with (the new property) right away. We can give it some thought and try to really determine the best use for it.”

Camas has opened three new buildings in recent years, including Lacamas Lake Elementary School for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. The other two schools house Camas’ project-based learning program, and give the district a blueprint for how to potentially develop the Underwriters property.

Discovery High School opened in September, and Odyssey Middle School just wrapped up its third year after opening in 2016. Those two schools both sit on the former Sharp Laboratories of America site. The district purchased the 55,000-square-foot building, at 5750 N.W. Pacific Rim Blvd., and surrounding 31.57 acres from Sharp for $12.5 million in 2016. After $2.25 million in renovations, Odyssey opened in the former Sharp building. Discovery was built next door.

“It showed us that it’s doable to convert existing business space into educational space,” Snell said. “It’s doable at a relatively inexpensive price compared to new construction.”

Discovery cost about $45 million to build, and Lacamas Lake cost the district roughly $42 million to build.

Both Lacamas Lake and Discovery were built with money from the district’s $120 million bond voters approved in 2016. While a middle school wasn’t part of the plan for that money, Camas delivered one thanks to purchasing the Sharp building and land.

Snell said there aren’t any plans for how to develop the UL property. It’s large enough the district could build another high school, if needed, Snell said. The district could also seek partnerships for other educational opportunities, he added.

The purchase also gives the Camas School District property north and south of Lacamas Lake, so wherever development comes, the district could serve its population. In 2016, Camas purchased about 80 acres north of the lake for $1.13 million from the Department of Natural Resources. That land isn’t as ready for development as the UL property, Snell said.

The district is facing a potential $8.2 million shortfall in the upcoming school year, and will most likely see some staff reductions. Snell said he understands how it might look to some that the district is reducing staff but buying property. However, he said funding for those come from different places.

“This is an investment for the future using dollars designated for capital improvements,” he said. “The money used for this purchase can’t go towards things like staffing.”


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