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Sequim schools putting bond issue to voters
Time to grow?
Sequim school leaders and advocates have two months to convince voters to approve a $154 million capital projects bond that would fund the building of a new elementary school, a major overhaul of Sequim High School, significant modifications to Greywolf Elementary School and more.
On Feb. 11, the Sequim School Board of Directors unanimously approved putting the proposal to voters for a special election on April 22.
“What do we need to do for our students and staff to be successful? We’re looking after our constituents. I think we have a responsibility to let the voters decide,” Sequim school board president John Bridge said last week.
The 20-year bond would pay for projects that include: an $87 million overhaul of Sequim High School, $25.5 million for a new elementary school, $17.7 million in renovations to Greywolf Elementary School and $8 million in renovations to Helen Haller Elementary School, as it transitions into the new home for Olympic Peninsula Academy and other community programs.
Also on the list is $4.75 million for an athletic facility that would replace an aging football and soccer stadium off of Fir Street and $2 million earmarked for land acquisition for the elementary school that would replace Helen Haller.
The project list also includes $1 million in modifications to the Sequim Middle School roof, which has seen significant drywall damage, school district business manager Brian Lewis said. The previous design that pools some rainwater atop flat sections, and that water seeps into the structure.
The board unanimously approved the ballot measure, though board member Mike Howe added before the vote, “I do think these are needed (but) I think it can be done in phases.”
Bridge said, “It’s a long time (that) we’ve been putting this off. We keep putting band aids on our facilities.”
Dave Mattingley, who served on a committee that looked at potential capital projects for the district and made recommendations to the board in recent weeks.
“If not now, when? I just feel it’s really time to step forward and do something good for the kids,” he said. “I really look forward to engaging this community and getting this passed.”
When voters get their ballots in April, the ballot will note the total amount of the bond, details of what the projects are and how long the term is. A tax rate is not mentioned.
“It’s up to district to tell taxpayers what the rate is,” said John Gores of Port Angeles-based DA Davidson, who advised the board regarding bond figures in recent weeks.
The bonds would carry a 20-year term and add about $1.74 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to property tax bills of taxpayers in the Sequim School District, Gores said.
The property tax bill for a homeowner with a $200,000 home would increase by about $29 per month.
Sequim’s 2013 levy rate is $2.29, second-lowest in Clallam County — only Crescent School District’s rate is lower. A 1998 bond that built Sequim Middle School expires soon, so if the April 22 bond passes, taxpayers in the Sequim School District would see the cumulative school tax rate rise to
$3.85 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The board considered a 25-year-term bond at a lower tax rate ($3.59 per $1,000) but decided the waste of millions of dollars in interest wasn’t worth it.
“There is a lot of wasted money in those extra five years,” Gores said.
Sequim would also receive $4.5 million in state matching funds.
To the Citizens
The key to getting a bond like this passed? “Educating the public,” Mattingley said. “People years ago thought Sequim had something special. We can follow in those footsteps.”
That’s exactly the path E. Michael McAleer and other Citizens for Sequim Schools advocates are pursuing in the coming weeks.
The group is the proverbial backbone for operations levy campaigns was a presumed supporter of the April bond campaign. School board member Sarah Bedinger said in January she wanted to gauge group’s the interest before she approved a bond measure and said last week, “I was pleasantly surprised to hear, ‘Whatever the board wants us to do, we’ll do.’”
McAleer, a real estate broker whose wife is a teacher and who has two children in Sequim schools, said Citizens for Sequim Schools will be making presentations with service groups, professional organizations, homeowner associations and the like to spread the word about the need for the bond.
“Information is on our side,” McAleer said. “People in this town appreciate the concept of not throwing good money after bad.”
McAleer said better schools are a top selling point to people considering moving to Sequim.
“As a taxpayer, I want to know that it’s going to help my town. It absolutely does. It makes a big difference to a (home) buyer, to a physician coming to town.”
McAleer said he’s been impressed with the district’s financial prudence with similar projects, such as the bond that helped build Sequim Middle School in the late 1990s.
“This school board and district have a history that when the project comes under budget, they give that (money) back,” he said.
He said citizens of Sequim will see support for this vote from “every corner of the community: retirees, professionals, parents, everybody … and across party lines.”
“I’m excited to see this come to a vote,” McAleer said.
Timing is everything
A topic of concern among board members was sequencing the construction of the projects. Kelly Shea, the school district’s superintendent, said his priority would be to see the new elementary school built first, then open up Helen Haller Elementary School as a kind of “open chair.” Helen Haller could then be used by Greywolf Elementary School students during significant construction phases, then by older students during construction of the Sequim High School modifications, and then transition into the new home for Olympic Peninsula Academy, housed now at the earmarked-to-be-demolished Sequim Community School.
She said school construction is “extremely disruptive” to students and would encourage the district to move Greywolf students to Helen Haller for the duration of major renovations and building.
“I’ve been through both as a parent and principal,” Shea said.
Modifications to the middle school’s roof and construction of a new stadium could be done in summer months, BLRB architects said.
Lee Fenton of BLRB Architects encouraged the board that a sequencing plan “wouldn’t take months but days” to prepare.
Projects could be completed as early as the 2018-2019 school year.
Athletic field project stays
A point of conversation among board members was the $4.75 million for construction of an athletic field facility on the site of the current Sequim High School multi-use complex.
Brian Lewis, the school district’s business manager, said for Sequim to host district tournament-level games, state officials like to see synthetic turf, access to press boxes, covered seating and conveniently located team facilities, such as locker rooms located below the home side grandstands. At halftime during football games, Sequim and opposing athletes walk back to the high school’s locker rooms. “It’s safe to say we don’t have ‘conveniently located’ team facilities,” Lewis said.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.