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Schools assess next steps
Following the successful campaign for two levies, the Sequim School District seeks input on what it needs next.
School board members started the process Monday night, March 18, by approving a contract worth upwards of $79,980 with BLRB Architects of Tacoma.
The agency will assess all the district’s school buildings, meet with schools staff, facilitate seven pre-bond planning committee meetings and engage three community conversations on the district’s needs.
Through these meetings and conversations, BLRB will create conceptual designs from the community’s ideas with a cost assessment.
Superintendent Kelly Shea said there are both infrastructure and safety concerns with the district’s buildings.
“Both Helen Haller and the high school have an open campus, which pose a significant challenge,” he said.
After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Shea said it heightened his and the community’s awareness of safety and security.
“How can you lock down a school with 40 doors to the outside?” he asked.
School board president Virginia O’Neil said that question is the board’s responsibility to know but they aren’t sure what to do because it is such a daunting task.
“That’s why we’re asking people who do know,” she said.
For now the district has instated a policy that each classroom lock its doors regardless of location and has begun installing more cameras.
“None of us have the background to determine what we need,” O’Neil said. “Manpower-wise we don’t have the staff to figure out this Rubik’s cube. (BLRB) can give us their expert advice.”
Shea said it allows them to be participants and have an objective third party come in.
For the project, BLRB won out over nine other firms; no proposals from within Clallam County.
Shea said any information BLRB presents will be combined with the community’s ideas and school boards to create one clear understanding.
“We want a collective community vision for 50 years,” Shea said.
If the school board felt it necessary to propose something that could be either a bond or capital levy,
“Ultimately it will be the community’s decision what they are willing to support,” O’Neil said.
“BLRB will facilitate that.”
Lee Fenton, managing principal for BLRB, agreed.
“This is driven by citizen recommendation at the end of the day in order to be successful,” he said.
Shea said any new funding would propose to renovate, modernize or replace certain facilities.
Looking at the district’s two oldest schools, Helen Haller and the high school, Shea said schools then were built for a shelf life of 20-25 years despite the state requiring that districts create 50-year plans.
“It’s not that we can’t function in these buildings but learning has changed a lot in 44 years,” he said.
Simply saying the district is outdated doesn’t cover it all, O’Neil said.
“We know there are some things now but we’ve been band-aiding our facilities for years,” she said.
Current problems are being funded with the general fund, Shea said, but most recommendations from a 2008 facilities committee report have been mostly untouched due to a poor economy.
He said after BLRB completes its assessment, the school board may decided not to run a bond, but a capital levy to specifically fix some things. However, he’s not sure they’d go that route.
“We do have aging facilities and don’t want to wait like Tacoma did, ” Shea said. Tacoma had to replace nearly 100-year old schools.
Despite the overwhelming support from the community for ongoing activities and the recent levies, Shea said he and others can’t assume the community would support the district’s next proposal to voters.
“We have to be intentional with what we believe what we need to do by being transparent and honest,” Shea said.
O’Neil hopes the community engages in the community discussions.
“We cannot make a legitimate decision without them,” she said.