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Community School on borrowed time
by MICHAEL DASHIELL
Like a convict on death row, it seems the fate of the Sequim Community School is set.
The only question left is the date of execution.
Sequim School Board directors, administrators and a committee of community members and school staffers are working toward a plan to close the building that’s home to more than a dozen programs, including the alternative high school, the birth-to-6 program, First Teacher, Olympic Peninsula Academy, Head Start, Snap and Peninsula College GED programs.
Constructed in 1950, the building opened as an elementary school, with two remodels (1952 and 1954) before being transformed into a middle school in 1979. After Sequim Middle School was built in 1998 on Hendrickson Road, Sequim Community School became a home for various school district and community programs.
A facilities committee noted in a 2008 report to the school districts that the school “is at a point where it will require significant and expensive upgrades to extend its serviceable life for any meaningful period of time.”
The committee, chaired by Tom Schaafsma, noted in February 2008 that the Sequim School District faces a number of upgrade needs of deteriorating buildings and other facilities, including 30-year-old portables at Helen Haller Elementary School.
Determining the future of the Sequim Community School, Schaafsma noted, was “the single greatest (issue) we faced as a committee.”
The committee noted issues of asbestos, leaking roofs, buried oil tanks, failing heating systems, substandard electrical systems, inadequate drainage systems, single-pane windows, worn and failing floor coverings and “functional obsolescence.”
Wrote Schaafsma, these “were all issues that kept haunting us as we discussed the future of this building.”
Deciding the future of the 71,000-square-foot building at 220 W. Alder St. has been on the district’s radar for years, well before the 2008 report, but no formal plan had been set in place.
And despite their concern and efforts, the board didn’t draft one last week when they held an hour-long workshop on May 23.
“No question, we have to close it,” school board member Sarah Bedinger said. “I don’t think there’s anyone on this board that wants to use it as is. For years we’ve known we have to close that school. There’s no way around it.”
Sequim School Board president John Bridge said he’d like to see new homes for all the programs housed in the community school before they consider closing it.
But, as facility committee members noted, closing the school is just one of a series of upgrades needed throughout the district. The 2008 report recommended not only shutting down the school but also demolishing the building and building a new elementary school in its place.
But the report assumed a growth in enrollment in Sequim schools, which is not the case in 2011. Building a new elementary school also would require a large, voter-approved bond.
School board member Virginia O’Neil said she’s concerned about making sure the next maintenance and operations levy passes in 2013, and that asking voters to fund that and a new school may be too difficult.
“In the face of declining enrollment, I can’t pitch that,” O’Neil said.
Donna Hudson, principal at Greywolf Elementary School and facilities committee member, said that plan may need to be tweaked or put off for now.
“There’s a need for an elementary school eventually, but there’s some short-term needs,” Hudson said.
And those needs include finding a home for programs currently housed in an unsafe community school.
“It (Sequim Community School) serves a purpose and it’s hard to move beyond that purpose (but) we left that building 12 years ago because it’s unsafe for kids,” Hudson said. “Something will have to be done with it. Part of it is getting kids out of a … junker building.”
Said Bridge, “I’m pretty sure we don’t want to buy any more buckets. (I) don’t want to put lots of money into it. It’s going to go away.”
Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley said closing the school wouldn’t happen right away.
“Even if we said, right now, we’re going to close the community school, we’re a year away from any kind of action,” Bentley said.
Other Sequim School District facility upgrade goals include:
• Short term — renovating the old Sequim High School building, remodeling the high school gymnasium, expanding the high school kitchen, replacing portables throughout the districts with real classrooms
• Middle term (3-5 years) — renovating Helen Haller Elementary School, replacing the Greywolf roof and renovating the gymnasium, renovating the high school stadium, building a maintenance and operations shop, moving the high school music and choir program into a new building adjacent to the auditorium, possibly building a new elementary school
• Long term — removing portables, relocating Helen Haller students to a new elementary school, relocating community programs to a renovated Helen Haller building.
Reach Michael Dashiell at miked@sequimgazette.