Nevada School District Moves Ahead with Construction

By Lisa Kopochinski

RENO, Nev.—The Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada is moving ahead with more than $600 million in construction projects—including a $200 million high school— despite the current coronavirus pandemic and uncertain tax revenues.

District Chief Financial Officer Mark Mathers told local media that the district has planned and factored in a decrease in sales tax, the main source of its capital projects funding.

“We have begun modeling a recession and the impacts to sales tax revenue because of that recession,” he said in a statement.

An increase of sales tax in Washoe County in 2016 from the WC-1 ballot initiative — from 7.725 percent to 8.265 percent — gave the district more than $3.8 million a month for construction projects.

In fiscal years 2016 through 2020, the district took in nearly $150 million in sales tax revenues. However, this income could plummet during the economic shutdown as many businesses remain closed per Nevada Gov. Sisolak’s orders. The district has calculated budgets to see a drop of as much as 34 percent in sales tax revenues in fiscal year 2021.

However, the school board approved a five-year capital projects plan that includes a new high school on part of Wildcreek Golf Course in north Reno, and expansions at Swope and O’Brien middle schools.

“It is very exciting,” said Chief Facilities Management Officer Adam Searcy of the new Procter Hug High. “They are working feverishly out there to build this new school. On a budgeted project such as the construction of a new high school—as terrible as the circumstances have been in all other walks of life—we caught a good break on the timing for that project.”

He added that initial bids for parts of that project have come in lower than anticipated.

The five-year capital projects budget includes:

  • $307 million in major projects such as school construction
  • $63 million in capital renewal projects for paving and upgrading current schools
  • $120 million in debt services for paying back borrowed money for previous projects
  • $27 million in program administration including salaries
  • $20 million in operations and equipment

While the district is anticipating revenues falling $50 million or more a year from WC-1, it is moving forward with plans to bring in $38 million in fiscal year 2021.