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South Whidbey $25M school bond faces fight from Langley Middle School supporters

For the first time in memory, an improvement proposal for South End schools will face organized opposition at the ballot box.

A group of Langley Middle School supporters is fighting the South Whidbey School District’s $25 million bond measure for renovating South Whidbey High School and expanding the Maxwelton Road campus so middle school students can be moved there by fall 2012.

Damian Greene, Teresa McElhinny, and Matt and Erin Simms have formed an opposition group to the ballot measure and are writing the statement against the bond for the November voters’ guide.

The group is not a collection of Johnny-come-lately critics of the school district. Erin Simms helped set up the “Save Langley Middle School” page on the social network Facebook. Greene told district officials earlier that he could not support the bond measure because of his concerns about drainage and septic system issues, and McElhinny has also said she will vote against the measure.

Greene said he is still concerned about impacts from the planned improvements at the high school.

If approved by voters this November, the bond money will be used for facility repairs that total roughly $10.8 million, while site improvements and remodeling of the high school will cost about $14.2 million.

“I’m very concerned that we haven’t budgeted properly for the storm drainage and the septic upgrades,” he said.

Greene has repeatedly raised concerns about the space the school district will need on the high school campus to upgrade the septic system after new facilities such as a new gym and artificial-turf field are constructed.

“It’ll reduce the area available for septic, drain fields and reserve drain-field areas that are required by code,” he said.

“I know they are going to follow code, but do they have the space available?” Greene asked.

Greene said he also has concerns about the stormwater runoff that may affect Maxwelton Creek after the expansion project is complete.

“Where’s all that water going?” Greene asked.

There are also worries about additional traffic as schools are consolidated on Maxwelton Road.

“You’re putting 1,700 people all onto Maxwelton Road trying to get to the same place at the same time,” he said. “What are those costs going to be? Do we need more stoplights, crosswalks, overhead walkways, pullouts, road expansions?”

Greene said he was worried that the expenses will exceed the $25 million amount of the bond measure, and the true costs will be closer to earlier estimates for the school-consolidation effort.

“We could be into a situation where now we’ve gone into this whole thing and you know what? That original number of $45 million was the right number,” he said.

District officials investigated the capacity of the high school’s septic system after Greene raised concerns at board meetings earlier this summer.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy and Al Bullard, the district’s maintenance supervisor, met last month with Ray Gabelein, owner of the business that installed the expanded septic system on the school property.

The trio reviewed the plans for that 1995 expansion project and made a site visit to examine the system.

McCarthy told the school board the system was working as designed, and noted that Gabelein said the system has the capacity to handle the current student population plus the additional students and staff once the consolidation effort is complete.

According to the school district, the septic system at the high school has a capacity of 1,097, and approximately 800 students and

50 staff members are expected to use the combined school after the consolidation in 2012.

District officials say that the 2012 population is expected to be the “high watermark,” and that the number of staff and students will drop to 700 students and 46 staff members in 2013.

New construction at the school will also include low-flow toilets and waterless urinals, according to the school district.

Supporters of the bond measure stress that it will pay for needed repairs in district schools, and will save existing middle school programs that are crucial to students.

Molly MacLeod-Roberts, a parent of two children in South End schools, has volunteered to help write the statement to support the bond measure in the voters’ guide.

“It’s vital that we provide a safe, healthy, quality learning environment,” she said.

If the bond measure fails, MacLeod-Roberts said, people shouldn’t assume that means the end of the consolidation effort for Langley Middle School and SWHS. LMS will not remain open.

“That is not going to happen,” she said. “If the bond fails, now and forever ... the consolidation will happen. But it will happen without any of the improvements.”

“The middle school is closing, regardless,” MacLeod-Roberts said. “They need to understand, that building is closed. And without this bond, that building will close and our kids won’t get what they deserve.”

MacLeod-Roberts said the new bond will cost property owners less than the current bond that is paying for the earlier expansion of the high school.

“The current bond costs 67 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. On a $350,000 home; that’s $234.50,” she said. “The proposed bond will be at 47 cents per $1,000, so that total for the $350,000 home would be $164.50.”

Beyond expanding and renovating the high school to accommodate students from Langley Middle School, the 20-year general obligation bonds would also pay for health, safety, educational and infrastructure improvements at the elementary school and primary campus, Bayview School and Langley Middle School.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who are absolutely in favor of this bond, and parents also,” MacLeod-Roberts said.

But she noted that 80 percent of the district’s voters don’t have or never have had kids in local classrooms, and the fate of the bond measure rests with that majority, she said.

“South Whidbey has a wonderful tradition of really supporting our schools. I’m hoping they will step up again,” she said.

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