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New school board will move to reverse LMS closure

Damian Greene and Linda Racicot take their oaths to faithfully serve the school district at the board meeting Nov. 30. Both won unchallenged seats on the South Whidbey School Board. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Damian Greene and Linda Racicot take their oaths to faithfully serve the school district at the board meeting Nov. 30. Both won unchallenged seats on the South Whidbey School Board.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Langley Middle School is going to stay open next school year.

A resolution to close the middle school on Camano Avenue is likely to be rescinded at the Dec. 14 South Whidbey School Board meeting, said newly appointed Board Chairman Steve Scoles.

“We’re not going to close the middle school this summer,” Scoles said. “We need to acknowledge that can’t happen and take the next step.”

“It’s been a really big deal the last three years,” Scoles added. “With the change of the board with the new members and myself, we feel strongly that we should look at the July [2009] measure.”

The school board voted in 2009 to close the eight-building LMS campus and consolidate the school with South Whidbey High School no later than September 2012. This week’s addition of two new board members, Damian Greene and Linda Racicot, means a new majority that favors keeping the middle school open.

Greene and Racicot were sworn in as new board members Wednesday. The board will vote on a new resolution to effectively cancel the unpopular closure later this month.

Scoles, now serving his second stint as board chairman, was the only board member during the original vote in 2009 to cast against the closure.

“I strongly objected to that amendment at the time as completely impractical,” Scoles said. “They won’t all fit in one building.

“What I saw all along was the community would not support this idea.”

Scoles has proposed further evaluations of the middle school facilities. In a school board meeting this summer, he challenged the $4 million cost estimate to upgrade the school in the event of an earthquake.

Regulations covering seismic upgrades are changing constantly, he noted.

“The code keeps changing every year,” Scoles said.

He was also critical of other cost concerns. Proponents of closing the middle school argued it would save the district money in staff and faculty. Scoles disagreed.

“My feeling is if you move 400 students you’re still going to need teachers, cooks, custodians and administrators,” he said.

The Dec. 14 meeting will also include a brief workshop to review some policies before getting into the business meeting and the new resolution.

Closing LMS has been bitterly debated at school board meetings since it was proposed three years ago, and adding it to the agenda is likely to bring out supporters for both closing the school and keeping it open.

“I would expect there would be some speakers on both sides of this issue,” Scoles said.

Moving forward on the district’s facilities was an important, and also unknown, step. Scoles admitted the board won’t have a recommendation on what the district should do within the next two weeks before the Dec. 14 meeting.

After the winter break, though, he expects to see progress and ideas on where to go from here.

“I would like to see us have a workshop in a few months to move forward on this,” Scoles said.

“If we’re going to stay in that building, we should raise some capital to do some seismic work on it.”

The buildings, though not up to code when the survey was done by Seattle consulting engineers ABKJ, are still serviceable.

At the time of the evaluations, the engineers reported to the board that the facilities were safe for students. The survey detailed masonry problems, too many single-pane windows, deteriorated or missing fittings and soil erosion around the foundations.

“I believe the buildings are safe right now for student occupants,” said ABKJ architect Darren Johnston in October 2008. “They have experienced earthquakes over the years with minimal damage.”

The LMS campus has buildings constructed more than 75 years ago, such as the two-story classroom building. The original elementary school was built there in 1940 and the gymnasium was built in 1949. The other facilities were built before 1961.

 

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