Sequim school leaders put priority on security, track fixes

A project Sequim school leaders sought to provide second floor access and a revamped board meeting/multi-purpose room is going on the proverbial back-burner, replaced with a focus on items such as school safety and the district track.

Superintendent Regan Nickels said she and district staff, along with capital projects manager Chris Marfori of Wenaha Group, have been reevaluating what’s next in school improvement efforts, and if those priorities need to be reshuffled.

Based on a Sept. 14 community safety meeting, recent listening sessions and other interactions, Nickels told school board directors at their Oct. 3 regular meeting that she’s been assessing where the district’s capital project priorities might need to change.

“Facilities come up time after time after time, and safety has come up,” she said.

And while many of the projects the district hopes to complete with the four-year, $15 capital projects levy voters approved in 2021 are still on the menu, Nickels said it may be advisable to get some of them done earlier by doing them in phases, or reconsider whether to do them at all.

“Many of these projects were capital projects we promised voters when they said yes,” Nickels noted last week.

Camera surveillance is a key issue district staff are looking at, she said. District leaders agreed to prioritize installing new security cameras tentatively starting in December, they said at the Sept. 14 meeting — a community forum following the Sept. 4 discovery of threatening messages and images spray painted on Helen Haller Elementary and Sequim Middle School.

(The graffiti included “be ready” next to a swastika, and “Sandy hook 2,” referencing the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.)

Because there is room in project planning for interim and long-term security options, Nickels said cameras have been moved to a first tier of capital projects.

Having fiber optic lines recently established to campuses is a big help, Marfori said, that gives individual schools more options to add security technology.

Getting on track

The district is also looking at fixes to the school district’s track, one that is damaged enough that the high school and middle school students are unable to use it for meets and practices.

SHS high school coaches and athletes said that they wound up using the track sparingly and instead scheduled practices on Port Angeles’ track.

“They’ve having to go offsite; I find that to be a safety issue,” Nickels said. “We recognized we could find an earlier project tier for the track.”

While an overall adjustment to the track, field and stadium might be a much larger (and more costly) solution, she said, there may be interim fixes so Sequim students could safely use the track for practices.

“It’s huge undertaking [to fix the entire facility] but if there’s a way to patch it … it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be usable, it would be safe,” Nickels said.

“We had runners who did amazing things, in spite of the track.”

Elevator project suspended

Efforts to add an elevator that would give those with mobility issues access to a proposed boardroom and multi-purpose room, however, are being shelved for now, Nickels and board members agreed.

Funds for an expanded district boardroom, district officials said in a previous meeting, would come from the district’s general capital projects fund and an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant. Those funds, totaling $715,000, would pay for the boardroom and installation of an elevator, allowing for full access for the public to the second-floor boardroom at 503 N. Sequim Ave.

However, the district could shift funding to house a boardroom on the first floor of the 1928 building and put off the elevator project for future reconsideration, Nickels said.

“Elevators are apparently quite popular in this post pandemic world,” she said. “The price point was very different than what it is now … [but] can get everything we are hoping for.”

District administrative office staff (business, human resources) who work now on the first floor would have to find offices upstairs, she said.

“In scale, [a first floor boardroom is] much easier to implement; you already have some ADA accessibility as it is,” Marfori said last week. “There’s a lot of opportunity to shift gears and … have even more functional space for the public and the staff.”

The shift, Marfori said, could have an added benefit in that it would open opportunities to have private meeting spaces upstairs and adjacent to the human resources department, if staff needed room for confidential meetings.

Because the elevator project was to be paid for by grant dollars — not capital project levy funds — the district would need to write a grant revision that would free up those funds for other projects, Nickels said.

Marfori said the funds Sequim has spent on the elevator project has been on design, money that isn’t likely to be wasted if the district comes back to the project.

“You have a usable design that can be used a decade from now … when there’s a more urgent need,” he said.

Breathing room

School leaders are also taking a close look at air quality issues, Nickels said.

The capital projects timeline has some work to address air quality in tier three but may see a higher priority, she said; that came to the forefront after seeing some Sequim classrooms with “lock and prop” doors during warm days (doors were locked but propped open because of inadequate ventilation.)

“That was challenging for me to hear because, of course, we have this safety issue,” she said.

Board director selection, district reshift

Sequim School District board directors will have a chance to interview candidates for the five-member board’s open position at their regular meeting on Oct. 17.

Jim Stoffer, the board’s District 3 director since 2015, resigned in September.

Monday, Oct. 10, was the deadline for applications.

Directors are scheduled to interview candidates on Oct. 27 and discuss a possible selection in executive session that night.

The new board director would take the oath of office on Nov. 7.

Candidates are required to live in District 3, which encompasses the east side of downtown Sequim and east side of River Road, the Bell Hill area and regions out to Clallam County’s east end and western portion of Jefferson County.

With the 2020 Census completed and population shifts in Clallam County, Sequim School Board members on Oct. 3 got a first look at possible changes to District 1 and District 2 boundaries.

The proposed change sees District 2’s boundary (north) pushed west to encompass more of District 1’s current territory, including portions of East Anderson Road, Cline Spit Road and others.

The change, school officials note, only applies to where board members can reside for three of the five geography-specific board position districts (two are at-large positions).

The alteration, which will have a public hearing at the boards Oct. 17 meeting, does not affect who district residents vote for — each voter in the district votes on each of the eligible races — nor does it affect what elementary school younger Sequim students attend, district leaders note.