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Schools’ future not on break
In his first year as Sequim schools superintendent, Kelly Shea inherited some hefty issues.
After tackling busing and staffing support with two recently passed levies, Shea and the school board are looking at the overarching concerns of school safety, infrastructure and educational needs while establishing a budget for needed changes.
Prior to spring break, Shea went on a walking tour of the district’s two biggest question marks — Sequim High School and Helen Haller Elementary.
Shea said after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting some Sequim citizens expressed a need to put up a six-foot fence with a gate at the elementary school.
“Let’s be honest, these are our babies,” he said. “There are people (teachers) with doors that open to the road.”
An all-encompassing fence with one entrance doesn’t appear to be an option.
“We can’t heighten people’s anxiety,” he said.
Yet safety and security only scratch the surface of the district’s needs.
In the five years since the district’s facilities improvement committee created a list of priorities, only a few have been fully or nearly accomplished.
Some successes include upgrading Helen Haller’s heaters, finishing the bus barn and remodeling the old high school to host administration and school board operations.
Still on the to-do list: build a new elementary school on the community school’s site, construct a cafeteria at Greywolf Elementary, remove portables at Helen Haller, construct a new band room and remodel a space for the choir, add six classrooms to the high school, consider a purchase of new property for future development — and more.
John McAndie, maintenance and operations supervisor, said the list remains as relevant today as then.
But he’s not sure if the members of that earlier committee took a hard enough look at the high school and how it meets today’s standards.
“So many things that have changed in technology and in the science lab that they aren’t quite meeting the curriculum,” he said.
McAndie said the high school and Helen Haller should take priority if any action is taken.
McAndie and Shea feel their sentiments aren’t written in stone. That’s why the district hired BLRB Architects of Tacoma for upwards of $79,980 to gauge the quality of the district’s buildings and to seek public input on the best next steps.
“The community has to wrestle these questions,” Shea said.
On April 10, the district hosts its first informational meeting about a new facilities committee. The group will meet monthly to guide the district’s priorities with its buildings.
“We want this group to dream but be realistic,” Shea said. “We get one shot at this. We’ve got to get it right.”
He’s not sure if the high school takes precedence over other projects at this point.
“We want to look at all the needs of the facilities,” he said. “There has to be a selling point for the community but when you try to please everyone, the price goes up.”
While looking in the high school’s science classrooms, Shea saw computers near water spigots, worn ceilings and floors, and outdated equipment.
“These don’t meet the educational program needs of today,” he said.
But, he added, he hasn’t heard many complaints about the physical condition of the buildings other than their age and being a little dark.
McAndie set his own priority list for each school and said the high school’s top issue is security.
“There’s no real way of closing the campus with band and choir across the street and the agriculture department on the edge of campus,” he said. “We kept expanding out and it’s become fragmented.”
Both elementary schools lack security.
“The open concept is definitely becoming an issue that doesn’t quite fit,” McAndie said.
“There’s still talk about all-day kindergarten, too, and there’s no space in any of the buildings.”
Shea said the only available classroom space is now used for storage. More portable classrooms are another possibility.
The problem with the district’s existing portables is that they are anything but portable.
Six classrooms in three portable buildings were installed at the high school in 1996 and more portables sit at Helen Haller.
Yet Shea said portables being stationary is a reality statewide and nationwide.
“There’s no such thing as portables,” he said.
“You can paint walls, re-carpet and that’s about it (inside portables). There’s no A/C and the classrooms become unbearable when the heat comes.”
Both Greywolf and the middle school are battling space issues. Until recently, students at Greywolf?? ate lunch in their classrooms. The schedule was revamped to allow them to eat in the gym.
Helen Haller has long occupied its gym for lunchtime while using the Boys & Girls Clubs’ gym for physical education.
McAndie said the middle school is cramped at lunch, too, with three lunches scheduled to accommodate its growing population.
The district is also considering replacing Greywolf and the middle school’s roofs, which could cost $300,000-$500,000 each depending on the materials.
When it comes to razing the recently closed community school, McAndie said funds could come from a bond or general fund.
Some of these items are likely to be pushed down the list of priorities.
Shea said some, including re-roofing, are preventative maintenance. He cited the high school’s H-building as a prime candidate for such repairs.
“It’s not in bad shape. We’ll get as long of use of that facility as we can,” he said.
“It only has a few doors to the outside. It’s like a regular high school building with not a lot of thrills but basic classrooms.”
BLRB’s assessment of the five schools, including the community school, is intended to define a community vision for what to do next with the buildings.
The current administration building, formerly the old high school will not be analyzed, with some spaces for learning services staff and the superintendent’s office slated for completion June 30. A new school board room won’t be used until an elevator is installed.
Beyond the current high school, questions for the cafeteria, gymnasium and theater loom.
Shea said discussing a new auditorium will be part of the process. He said building a new auditorium would free up space for the community, middle school and other organizations. The current space is consistently rented, he said.
The gym, built in 1954, is believed to be one of the worst athletic facilities in the Olympic League, Shea said.
But tearing it down isn’t an option.
“There aren’t many places for indoor rec other than SARC here,” he said.
As for the 1998 cafeteria, Shea said it could be used for a number of additional purposes, including classroom space.
Looking at the rest of the high school campus and Helen Haller, he remains concerned with accessibility and dated technology.
McAndie said any new buildings would be built to current seismic standards. He said each building on site is current to the year it was built.
If the district were to build something new, it would need to last for 50 years. That is part of the state construction standards — standards that must be met to receive matching funds.
Those standards have long changed since the high school and Helen Haller were built, McAndie said.
“The high school had the 20-year mentality, which is creating some issues,” he said.
Shea said there are plenty of positive options for both schools’ facilities. Several buildings could continue to be used, including utilizing the H-building for the Olympic Peninsula Academy and the alternative high school.
Currently, the district owns property behind the Boys & Girls Club and a parcel up Blue Mountain Road where construction could possibly take place.