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School bond campaign begins

Shawn Langston and son Rigo Langston join a crowd of school bond supporters in downtown Sequim on March 19.  - Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell
Shawn Langston and son Rigo Langston join a crowd of school bond supporters in downtown Sequim on March 19.
— image credit: Sequim Gazette photo by Michael Dashiell

Seeking its most ambitious capital build project in history, Sequim School District is hoping to garner support of voters this April to replace what they call aging and unsafe buildings and create more space for Sequim’s growing kindergarten population.

And while the ballots don’t arrive in the mail until at least April 2 and election day is April 22, the official start of the campaign was March 19.

The 20-year, $154 million 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.

The bond would also replace Sequim High School’s athletic field (including the addition of an all-weather playing surface), improve district technology infrastructure, modernize the district base kitchen, move SHS’s choir and band room to the main campus and fund the demolition of the Sequim Community School, among other projects.

For taxpaying property owners within the Sequim School District boundaries — roughly McDonald Creek to the west, Diamond Point Road to the east and the Olympic National Park boundary to the south — the bond would increase their annual taxes by about $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For owners of $200,000 homes, that equals about $340 per year.

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.

That rate, school leaders tout, is lower than the state average ($4.44), school districts with 2,000-2,999 students ($4.46) and school districts with similar assessed valuations ($4.90).

“The school bond comes down to three main issues: safety and security, adequate space and a learning environment that encourages high academic performance,” said Brian Lewis, the school district’s Director of Business Services.

Secure campuses

Sequim High School and Helen Haller Elementary School were build in an “open” style, leaving the campuses with multiple access points. The bond proposal essentially puts Sequim High School under one roof, with visitors having to access the building at one point.

“There’s no way for us to secure this campus,” Lewis said of Sequim High School. “People can enter from any direction.”

The new elementary school would similarly have one access point, and Greywolf would be modified to one access point.

Adequate space

Lewis and other school leaders are watching closely the birth rate in school district boundaries, and what they’re seeing indicates a significant bump in kindergarten populations for the coming half-decade.

Both of Sequim’s elementary schools, Greywolf and Helen Haller, are utilizing portables that are meant to be temporary learning classrooms, and Sequim school leaders are looking at buying more in the next two years if the school board approves full-day kindergarten, likely doubling the 180 student-plus kindergarten class they saw in the fall of 2013.

Using a five-year rolling average, Lewis and staffers determined Sequim schools can expect about 208 kindergartners in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, about 220 kindergartners by 2016-2017 and 240 kindergartners in 2017-2018.

“That’s why we’re concerned about having classroom space for these incoming kindergartners,” Lewis said.

Sequim school leaders are looking at putting a new elementary school further to the east of Sequim’s core. The bond would not only pay for construction of the new school but purchase the minimum 10-acre site the school would require.

At Greywolf, the capital projects bond would pay to add classrooms on either end of the school and a full gymnasium.

“Whoever designed this (school) had the forethought to make it able to add classrooms,” Lewis said.

Learning environment

Lewis points to deficiencies and inefficiencies at Sequim High School. He has recorded and posted several videos regarding the bond to YouTube. The series of videos include teachers, students and community members explaining how the bond proposal would help Sequim schools. (Find these videos at www.sequim.k12.wa.us or search YouTube for “Sequim Schools.”)

One video shows students using a 1960s-era science classroom. With state legislators recently passing a bill requiring high school seniors to earn 24 credits in order to graduate, the state is basically doubling the science credit requirement, Lewis said. Part of the school bond proposal adds science classrooms to the already built “H” building on the SHS campus.

While Sequim school leaders say some of their schools are adequate — such as Greywolf, built in 1990, Sequim Middle School that was built in the late 1990s and some buildings on the Sequim High School campus — many are substandard. While those school rate in the 80s according to a state standard (a Building Condition Assessment score from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction), Helen Haller Elementary scores a 54.06 and SHS buildings from the 1950s score a combined 55.93.

Lewis said the modifications to Sequim High School would bolster the school’s vocational program offerings.

“There are going to be job opportunities (in vocational areas) here,” he said. “We want to provide training for those job opportunities.”

Athletic field, facility

On the list is $4.75 million for an athletic facility that would replace an aging football and soccer stadium off of Fir Street.

Lewis 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.

Sequim High School’s gymnasium would also get a makeover. The gym was built in the 1950s.

“The floors are buckling — they’re warped,” Lewis said.

Dollar figures

E. Michael McAleer, president of Citizens for Sequim Schools — the grassroots citizen group that traditionally organizes support for school levy proposals —  said he likes the bond proposal for a number of reasons, many of them fiscal.

“It’s certainly more energy efficient to go with new buildings,” McAleer said.

Technology is changing all the time, McAleer said, and new buildings will be able to adapt to changes.

“I like to think of this as (our students are) competing on a state scale, a national scale, an international scale,” he said.

“Not all kids are going to a four-year college,” McAleer said. “All kids (should) have a fighting chance to succeed in this economy.”

He noted that two groups looking at the school district’s facility needs five years apart — “and there are not just school people (but) fiscally conservative people,” McAleer said — came up with the same list of projects.

“There were a lot of good people on those committees who came to the same conclusions,” said Dave Mattingley of Citizens for Sequim Schools.

“I don’t have any kids in the school district,” Mattingley said, “but I’m a believer in quality education.”

 

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