A storied but mostly unused Sequim school building and the district’s central kitchen are due for major changes in 2017, if voters give their approval.
On Monday, Sequim school board directors approved putting a three-year, $5.75-million capital project levy to voters in 2017, a project that would demolish a portion of the Sequim Community School and expand the central kitchen facility located in the same building.
“I think it’s very positive; it does two things we’ve been trying to do for years (and) it’s so student-focused,” board director Bev Horan said.
In a 4-0 vote, directors agreed to put the proposal to voters in a February 2017 special election alongside a four-year, $26.5 million Education Programs and Operations (EP&O) replacement levy.
The EP&O proposal pays for more teachers to reduce class sizes, continues programs like Highly Capable and Advanced Placement courses, buys curriculum, books and technology, and funds overall district maintenance and activities such as sports and after-school clubs.
The capital projects levy serves a dual purpose, Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal said. The base kitchen is in need of expansion — it has room for just two days worth of food for the 2,700 students in Sequim schools — and could use an upgrade in its 1950s-era equipment while the kitchen’s single-door loading dock would benefit from a remodel, Neal said.
Secondly, the unused portion of the community school — shuttered in 2012 because it was found to be unsafe for students — would give the school district access to $4.3 million instate matching funds for new construction.
Built in 1949, the portion of the Sequim Community School marked for demolition has been unused for several years because of safety concerns and heating cost issues.
“It’s really time for us to get that (community school project) off our table,” board director Jim Stoffer said.
Demolition would leave the base kitchen, some newer classrooms and all rooms used by the Olympic Peninsula Academy, the district’s parent partnership program, intact.
Board directors Horan, Stoffer, Robin Henrikson and Michael Howe voted to approve the capital projects proposal; director Heather Short was absent.
“I’m very enthusiastic with this levy and this approach,” Howe said.
If approved, the capital projects levy would cost property owners in school district boundaries 16 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2018 (total of $681,000), 36 cents per $1,000 in 2019 ($1,549,000 total) and 81 cents per $1,000 in 2020 ($3,525,000).
“This is extremely reasonable for what we’re asking our voters,” Horan said.
Combined with the EP&O levy, district taxpayers would be paying $1.68 per $1,000 in assessed valuation in 2018, $1.90 per $1,000 in 2019 and $2.36 per $1,000 in 2020.
“We’re still in the bottom 5 percent of the state with those numbers,” Neal said, noting that Port Angeles’ current school tax rate is $3.85 per $1,000.
He said that overages are built in to the demolition portion of the levy plan.
“Demolition is always tricky; you never know what’s going to happen when you start pulling down walls,” he said.
Neal said the district has a recent history of proposing two levies at the same time. In 2013, Sequim voters approved both an EP&O levy (at 67.69 percent) and a transportation vehicle fund levy (64.96 percent) that helped the district update an aging bus fleet.
Brian Kuh, president of Citizens for Sequim Schools, said he likened the EP&O levy to “keeping the lights on” while the capital project levy is “a step forward.”
“We’re ready to get going,” Kuh said.