A significant portion of the Sequim Community School remains in line to fall.
But the overall plan for deconstruction of the aging and mostly unused school facility, along with a major overhaul of the district’s central kitchen, may get a significant overhaul.
The community got its first look at possible changes to the Sequim School District’s multi-mullion-dollar capital project last week at a series of community forums, where district staff presented three options for the project.
The public forums — ones that continue this week at 9-10:30 a.m. and 5-6:30 p.m. on Jan. 17 and 18, and from noon-1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20, each at the district boardroom, 503 N. Sequim Ave. — aim to give the district’s five-member board of directors when it considers next steps at the next school board meeting, slated for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Sequim Schools superintendent Gary Neal said proposals stem from conversations with Bernie O’ Donnell, the northwest area development manager for Vanir Construction Management, Inc., who presented the options to the district in December, after Vanir staff discovered some complexities with its original plan to deconstruct the Sequim Community School and renovate the district kitchen.
“The central kitchen is configured with sheer walls and broken up into narrow hallways, and it could make it difficult to put in some of the layout we had seen in other schools,” O’Donnell said. “It’s not the most efficient layout, but it doesn’t mean it can’t work.”
O’Donnell said some of these complexities include the current layout of the kitchen, servicing a loading and unloading dock at the kitchen’s site where trucks coming in and out to ship food to other parts of the district could pose a concern for student safety and replacing parts of an inverted roof.
“We looked at replacing some of this inverted roof; that would be costly, too,” O’Donnell said. “We got to this point where honestly we felt like, are we putting a band-aid on this?”
O’Donnell said Vanir felt it was in the best interest of the district to propose these other options that could maximize the district’s square footage in order to enable it to access more state matching funds once deconstruction is completed.
The three options — other than the original, or baseline, option — include renovating and moving the central kitchen to the northwest corner of the community school, so that if a new school is built on that site it is more efficient for long-term planning.
“We felt it was necessary for us to bring this to the community and to the district because we think there might be opportunities for some benefits,” O’Donnell said.
Neal said in the original planning phases when the capital project levy was made he did not know it had the capability of moving the kitchen to a different site of the community school.
“Vanir uncovered we don’t have to (renovate the kitchen) on that exact same spot,” Neal said.
“As long as we are within the footprint of where we have an existing space, we can put that kitchen wherever we want.”
Voters approved $5.75 million in funding for the capital projects levy in February 2017.
Neal said all three options of moving and renovating the kitchen and deconstructing the remaining portions of the community school has been cleared by the state and allows the district to apply for $4.1 million in state matching funds.
Some options allow for more than $4.1 million in matching funds but one proposal (Option 1) puts the district over its budget at an estimated cost of $6 million.
The other impact in moving the kitchen and deconstructing the remaining portions of the community school could affect the spaces where Olympic Peninsula Academy (OPA) currently holds classes for 100 students.
Options two and three could displace these students during the deconstruction process but Neal said it is within the budget to find spaces for these students in the meantime.
Neal said the district could purchase portables to house Olympic Peninsula Academy students temporarily that are either on the same site as the community school or a different site within the district.
“Part of that contingency (in the budget) was that there were plans for OPA,” Neal said.
The benefit of these additional options, however, is that they could allow for better long-term planning if the district decides in the future it wants to use the space to build a new school, Neal said.
“If (the district) were to build a new school here … you’ve got the central kitchen right in the middle of the site,” O’Donnell said.
“Regardless if we get a new school or not, we know by deconstructing this it’s going to provide money for us down the road,” Neal said. “So at least we’re preparing for something in the future.”
Nola Judd, who was a candidate for a school board director position last fall, expressed concern at the forum for the possibility of putting in a new school in the future that voters have said no to in the past.
“One of the things that concerns me is that we had several elections where the electorate said, no new school,” Judd said. “And we’re providing for the possibility of a new school we’ve already not got community support for? How are we going to propose we get that changed in their minds?”
Neal said the district will continue to ask the community for what it will support.
“I’m not saying we’re going to do that, but it is an opportunity,” Neal said. “We’re just saying we think it’s important the community knows we have a vision and here’s our vision.”
Neal said if a new school does not get put in in the future, the district may have to look to buying portables to house more students.
“If we do not build another facility here we will have to start buying portables,” he said.
“The only funding we get for portables is going to be out of our reserve fund and eventually we will have no budget because we do not get money for capital projects from the state.”
Neal said he believes in investing in early education and if a new school goes in he envisions using it to house pre-kindergarten through fifth grade but grouping grades closer to their age groups.
“I’ve always said if I had the opportunity to be a superintendent we will put most of our resources into early education,” he said.