News

Superintendent speaks of Community School’s future

by MATTHEW NASH
Sequim Gazette

Sequim schools superintendent Bill Bentley said the Sequim School District has been chipping away at a number of long-term issues in recent years but the biggest and most difficult piece remains what to do with the Sequim Community School.

 

A 2008 facilities committee found that the community school had gone beyond its life cycle and the most economical solution was demolition, building a new elementary school and renovating Helen Haller Elementary.

 

Bentley said the district has been working on parts of the recommendations, including installing new heaters at Helen Haller, renovating the old high school and demolishing the condemned transportation building.

 

“We’ve been creative in getting things done, but again it’s just pieces,” Bentley said. “We had to be pretty creative to solve these. We applied for grants for the Haller heating projects, did the renovation with help of students and got a good bid for demolition of the transportation building.”

 

Bentley said he agrees with school board members’ sentiment that proposing a bond for a new school would be bad timing.

 

“At this point, the board has determined we felt the timing wasn’t right for an extensive building program,” Bentley said. “If you look at bond issues around the state and even nationwide, building a new school of that magnitude would require passing of a bond and few of those are successful. It’s not the most positive climate for that kind of building.”

Other options

Renovating the community school would cost more than building something new, Bentley said. “We are very reluctant to put any dollars into the building that has millions of dollars of problems,” he said.

 

A new facilities committee and the school board are investigating other options short of proposing to build another elementary school.

 

Bentley said they remain at the discussion stage but one option is constructing an 8-10 classroom building similar to the H-building at Sequim High School. Community School programs would be transferred to this facility.  

 

He said there are three or four possible places for the building and the board is discussing those options.

“We’re looking to see what would be those immediate, short-term options,” Bentley said. “It would give us a little more time on how we address demolishing the community school.”

 

Demolishing the community school is a great expense in itself and Bentley said he doesn’t have a cost estimate this early because he’d have to receive bids from experts.

 

“I know it’s not free,” he said. “We’ve had a few buildings demolished and you can’t get it for free.”

Preserving education

A need for space and a new building in the district is less dependent on enrollment, Bentley said, and more driven by conditions of existing buildings.

 

“One way or another, these facilities will need attention because the roofs will leak or the electrical systems will fail,” he said.

 

“Our issue is what is the best possible way we can resolve these issues now. Keep in mind we need to do these things in the most efficient way to do this.”

 

Remembering and pos- sibly preserving the history of the community school, formerly Helen Haller Elementary and Sequim Middle School, is another discussion the board will approach.

 

“An architect would tell us we can save any building, but it’s a matter of how much money you want to spend,” he said. The past and present facilities committee identified design and ongoing flaws with the community school that would be expensive to change.

 

Bentley said other design issues include the “California” design at Helen Haller and Sequim High School, where there are limited interior hallways.

 

“There are very few places that would choose that design in the Northwest,” he said.

 

He said anybody today would identify these as safety issues but when the buildings were made, the issues weren’t factored in as much as now.

 

“Part of the challenge we have with Haller elementary is that it’s a building that is reaching the end of its life cycle,” Bentley said.

Programs

Ancillary programs of the Sequim School District are Olympic Peninsula Academy, Alternative High School and Developmental Preschool.

 

The district has an obligation to provide space for these programs. Other programs do pay rent but it’s not enough to recoup the large costs to heat the building daily, Bentley said.

 

The Community School also houses the district’s master kitchen, which he said is inadequate and outdated despite providing food for both Helen Haller and Greywolf Elementary and some food for the middle school. The district’s special service staff resides in the school, too.

 

“I don’t believe it’s the right thing to just let the issue go,” Bentley said. “We don’t want to just keep handing it down the line. It’s certainly in the interest of our students and the interest of the community to have the kinds of facilities that are the most efficient in a financial standpoint.”

 

The school board plans to discuss the issues further in a special workshop Tuesday, June 21. Bentley said the facilities committee’s hope is to have a recommendation to the board by the end of the school year.

 

Contact Sequim School District, 503 N. Sequim Ave., at 582-3260.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

 

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