CAM Academy, an alternative school in Battle Ground Public Schools that focuses on character and academic rigor, will not be relocated for the coming school year despite school board efforts to do just that.
Moreover, the program that attracted 518 students last year could be discontinued at some point in the future.
For the time being, however, CAM continues to be located in a building the district rents for nearly $500,000 a year.
The district has rented the building at 715 NW Onsdorff Blvd., Battle Ground, for about 24 years at a total rental expense of about $8.3 million.
In February 2018, the Battle Ground Public Schools board of directors proposed a bond measure that included money to move CAM (Character and Academics for the Marketplace) out of the rented building and into district-owned portables that could have been located near NE 199th Street and NE 72nd Avenue on land owned by the district but not yet developed.
That bond measure failed.
District spokesperson Rita Sanders said some CAM families thought the proposed location at 72nd Ave/199th St. was too far out of town.
The board again sought voter approval for a bond in April stating that the district was open to other location options for CAM Academy.
Then at a meeting in May, the board considered a proposal to buy the rented building that has housed CAM since 1994. With just three board members present at that meeting, a motion to authorize the superintendent to negotiate the building purchase was turned down, 0-3.
The school was established as a high school with middle grades added later followed by grades three and four. CAM Academy is described in school materials as a “rigorous, academic alternative school.” The name was changed to CAM Academy with the mission “to support and promote academics, success, positive character development, acquisition of marketplace skills.”
Unable to find adequate space for CAM Academy in 1994, district officials agreed with builder and teacher Gary Albers to build a facility and the district would rent it. The district has rented the 32,600 square foot, 23-classroom building from Albers ever since. Albers also teaches at the school.
School board vice president Monty Anderson said moving CAM was under consideration at the time of the February bond measure but “it may or may not have been moved,” he said. “It could have been moved there (72nd Ave./199th St) or to some other district-owned property,” which he did not identify.
At the time of the April bond vote, “we thought we still needed to do something with CAM,” said Anderson, noting that consideration was given to moving the program elsewhere such as to a warehouse-type building. “Had the bond passed, we would have obtained more (public) input before acting,” he said.
Anderson also said he is aware that some CAM students take part in programs at nearby Battle Ground High School, such as sports, making a distant relocation out of the city inconvenient.
CAM principal Ryan Cowl said 70 of the 110 juniors and seniors at the Academy (64 percent) take college-level classes through the Running Start program and are therefore not at the CAM building for much, or all, of their education.
Albers said a few CAM students take some of their classes at Battle Ground High School, and an estimated 65 participate in sports or arts programs in other Battle Ground schools.
Future of CAM
“I think we should evaluate that (CAM) program,” Anderson said. “Is it a program that has benefit to kids? Yes, it is conceivable that the (CAM) program could go away. Our goal is to support kids.”
“If we dissolve the program, we don’t want students to get lost or not get taken care of,” Anderson said. “That could lead to failure in life. We don’t want to cause some kids to fail.”
Anderson said that CAM students have the same curriculum as in “comprehensive” schools. He said he is aware that students go through a selection process for admission to CAM Academy and of its higher level of academic rigor. He said that he personally has not had a child go through the selection process.
Cowl said the Academy has a waiting list for student admission, especially in grades three through eight.
Anderson said he is not concerned about students becoming homeschooled if the program ended, in which case the district would lose some state funding. Rather, he said, he is concerned about students “getting lost.”
Had the CAM program been moved to the 72nd Ave./199th St. location, it would have been into two 10-plex modular classroom buildings, along with a building constructed for common areas. According to Kevin Jolma, director of operations for the school district, those two 10-plexes plus the common areas building would have cost about $12 million.
Anderson said the money to rent the current building comes from the general fund which is a combination of state apportionment funding and local levy. Money to buy the current building would come from the same source, said Anderson.
Anderson cited two problems with buying the current building.
“One problem is that there is no land with the building,” he said noting that the facility has only six parking spaces. Staff members use the parking lot of a nearby church.
But more importantly, Anderson explained, if the current building were purchased, the district would not be eligible for added state funding to repair or replace that building for 30 years, under provisions of a state rule.
“Any purchased or new building cannot use additional state funding for 30 years,” he said.
At the board’s May 14 meeting, when members turned down the purchase idea, board member Mavis Nickels expressed concern over using levy funds to purchase and renovate the building given the reduction of levy dollars in coming years.
Landlord pays several expenses
Building owner Gary Albers said the lease on the building started out as “triple net,” meaning the district would pay maintenance and property taxes as well as rent. But, said Albers, it never worked out that way.
Instead, Albers pays the property taxes, which last year were about $30,000. He also pays utilities, maintenance and any large capital improvements. Albers said he installed a new roof and made other improvements this year at a cost of about $130,000.
Sanders said the district pays for such things as light bulbs, telephone charges, alarm system, computer data services and garbage removal. The district also provides custodial staff, she added.
Albers said leases with the district have been for one, two or three years. He said he would like to refinance the mortgage but has been unable to get a favorable interest rate due to the short term leases.
The current lease expires in 2019.
Albers said he has mortgaged his personal home twice to fund parts of the school as it was developed.
Albers said he previously offered to sell the building to the school district for $3.5 million plus the cost of land.
“I’m working with the city on the approvals for the construction of a parking lot,” said Albers, who plans to build a parking lot on 2.31 contiguous acres, which carry a county assessment of about $370,000.
“I would have to talk to the district about a price today (for the building and land),” Albers said.
CAM students score well on test
CAM students have scored above state and school district averages on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), a test used for college admissions.
In the most recent testing, CAM juniors and seniors on campus averaged 1382 on the SAT test compared to CAM students in Running Start who averaged 1214. The overall average on the test in Battle Ground Public Schools was 1145 and the state average was 1075.
Marvin Case may be reached at 360-687-4122 and at