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Schools facing a ‘major challenge:' Facilities committee says Sequim needs top $169 million

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The Sequim School Board will soon have to make some big decisions.

 

A new “needs assessment” to be presented to board members tonight (6 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 18) includes eight projects the district’s Facilities Committee says are needed to bring the facilities up to snuff.

 

The total price tag, as estimated by BLRB Architects: $169,287,324.57.

 

Sequim School Board president John Bridge acknowledged that’s a big number, but added, “I’m of an age where every price I see on anything produces sticker shock.”

 

Bridge said preparing the list is just the first stage in the process.

 

Now that the needs have been determined, he said, the second step is to find out exactly what it will cost.

Toward that end the board will attend a Jan. 6 workshop with bond experts to learn more about the process, and to learn how to best structure any bond issue that arises from the needs list.

 

 “That’s going to tell us a lot,” Bridge said.

 

The third step is to learn what the entire package would cost local taxpayers, and to investigate what the taxpayers in other similar districts are paying.

 

“Is that a reasonable thing for our constituents to pay?” Bridge asked.

 

It may be necessary to establish priorities in order to reduce the overall cost, he said.

 

“It’s our responsibility to make this something reasonable to our students, staff and constituents.”

 

Finally, he said, it will be the school board’s obligation to seek the approval of voters of the bond proposal that emerges from board discussions.

 

Sixty percent — a so-called “super majority” — of voters within the district would be required to vote in the affirmative to move forward with a new bond.

 

A game of chess

Jim Stoffer, who co-chairs the facilities committee with Sue Ellen Riesau, said he wasn’t surprised by the total figure, saying they hadn’t concerned themselves so much with the cost as with “the needs and values” of the district.

 

The committee’s task, he said, was to “get our hands dirty” going through each facility to check out its condition.

 

“If I was concerned about numbers, I would have wanted to cut,” he said.

 

Instead the committee sought out opportunities “to enhance and improve the facilities to improve the educational opportunities for students,” Stoffer said.

 

To achieve that, he said, “We need these changes and we need these facilities.”

 

Sequim Superintendent Kelly Shea, who attended the facility committee meetings, said, the committee “isn’t recommending the school board pick up the entire tab. Instead the new report is simply a list of needs.

 

“The board needs to hear these things and wrestle with it,” Shea said.

 

The committee’s job was to create the needs assessment, while “the board makes these decisions.”

 

“It will be a major challenge,” he added.

 

Shea said the district paid BLRB Architects $79,000 to assist them in creating the assessment.

 

Shea said the process of creating that needs assesment is difficult, likening it to a chess game.

 

“The first move you make now is leading to a decision three moves from now,” Shea said.

 

He also noted that the timing is intentional, with a 1999 bond issue — one that purchased the middle school as well as the “H” building and the cafeteria at the high school — scheduled to be paid off by the end of 2014.

 

Shea said he couldn’t estimate how much a bond issue for the entire amount would cost taxpayers, but added that it would be “more than we’re paying now.”

 

Sequim district taxpayers are now paying $1.58 per thousand for the maintenance and operations levy approved by voters in 2013. In 2014 they’ll be billed 44 cents per thousand for a one-year transportation levy approved at the same time.

 

In its last year, the 1999 bond levy will next year require just 9.6 cents per thousand from taxpayers, but that’s greatly reduced from past years.

 

The project line-up

• Shea said the biggest ticket item, the renovation and addition to the existing Sequim High School, is intended to provide a “single roof” for the school. “That helps us provide the safest, most secure and most efficient school,” he said.

 

He noted that currently “50 doors” open to the outside every hour — “as opposed to one into a climate-controlled hallway.”

 

He said modern, and modernized, facilities have a measurable impact on student achievement, including better control of temperature swings and greater use of natural light.

 

• The need for a new Helen Haller Elementary School is driven by the changing population patterns in Sequim. Shea said the district tries to maintain a rough parity with the number of students in Helen Haller and Greywolf, which is located in Carlsborg.

 

Because the population shift has moved to the east, the dividing line between the two schools is now Seventh Avenue — just two blocks west of Helen Haller’s current location. In a few years, Greywolf’s draw could encompass the Helen Haller, leading to the inefficiency of busing students past Haller on the way to Greywolf.

 

He said with the number of lots platted to the east, and with the Dungeness Water Rule promoting growth within city limits, the move east will become even more pronounced over the next few years.

The $30 million projected cost includes $5 million toward the purchase of 10 acres for the new school.

 

• Security issues also drive up the cost of the proposed modernization of Greywolf. Shea said neither of the school’s two entrances can be seen by office staff.

 

“A single point of entry is important,” he said.

 

The office would also be reconfigured to allow workers to monitor the entryway.

 

The needs assessment also calls for a gym to be built at Greywolf. Currently the school has a large multi-purpose room that serves as both a gym and cafeteria, which means for an hour and a half a day it’s not available for exercise and play. The need for more gym time will become more acute as the school adds full-day kindergarten in the next two years. That will also require an additional five classrooms at the school.

 

• The committee also suggested renovating the current football/soccer stadium at the high school, including a new artificial turf playing surface and a new track to replace the current rubberized track, which is deteriorating.

 

Moving the softball field, which now encroaches on Fir Street, is also up for discussion.

 

• The plan calls for removing the now largely abandoned former Community School and building new tennis courts in its place.

 

Shea noted that the school’s current tennis courts are becoming an injury hazard due to their deteriorating condition. Placing the new ones across Fir would also result in siting the facilities most commonly used by the public, including the popular pickleball courts, at a distance from the high school campus.

 

• The current Helen Haller school could be renovated to host the Olympic Peninsula Academy.

One of the four buildings now on the site would be demolished, leaving a “horseshoe” that would allow those on campus to see who is coming and going. The parking lot would also be reworked to make it more efficient.

 

The newly available space might also “be used to reestablish the old community school model,” Shea said.

 

• Shea said the district now has no central warehouse — a place to accept deliveries and to store maintenance equipment.

 

Building a new maintenance and operations building would make the district more secure and more efficient, he said.

 

• Shea said the facilities committee wants to keep the Community School gym building, the gray block across Fir from the high school. To keep it in good working condition, the heating and cooling systems require considerable work.

 

It’s possible, too, the current band and choir rooms could be “taken down.”

 

• The Sequim Middle School is now 15 years old, Shea said, and the roof needs some work. The needs assessment calls for redesigning the roof system, which is now subject to leaks. The assessment also includes paving an occasional-use grass parking lot, and “possibly purchasing three acres next door.”

 

 

Reach Mark Couhig at mcouhig@sequimgazette.com.
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