South Whidbey School District preps M&O, capital levies

More than $7 million is needed to repair, re-paint and resurface South Whidbey’s schools.

A six-page spreadsheet of work items across the South Whidbey School District now has cost estimates attached to 67 maintenance issues. And there are still some work items’ costs being researched or evaluated.

“A lot of them are estimates based on what an architect said three to five years ago,” said Steve Scoles, South Whidbey School Board chairman. “We know that some of those estimates are way too high.”

To pay for the work, the school district will seek two levy approvals in February. Combined, the levies annually will bring in $2 million for the district, of which one-third would go toward the district’s technology fund. Taxpayers from Classic Road to Clinton have paid a maintenance and operations tax rate of 97 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, in addition to 23 cents per thousand for the district’s capital fund.

Potential rates for the new levy were not available, and a precise rate is likely another two weeks away from being firm, said Dean Hatt, levy committee co-chairman.

“We’ve calculated that this capital levy will cost taxpayers less than if we had the $25-million bond,” Scoles said, referring to a bond that was voted down in November 2010. “That’s one of the problems with a bond, you have to get 60 percent to pass it.”

At the school board workshop Oct. 10, the district’s leaders presented an updated repairs list with cost estimates for most of the items. The school board, along with District Superintendent Jo Moccia and Assistant Superintendent of Business Dan Poolman, reviewed the work list and levies, looking at each item’s priority and impact on students. When Scoles looked at them, as a retired contractor he saw some costs were higher than he knew they should be.

“We touched on many of those items and questioned them,” Scoles said.

“I’m quite tuned in to the buildings. I look at the numbers, some of those things there really jump out at me.”

Keeping South Whidbey’s students safe in existing buildings is the focus of the levy. Rather than seek a levy in the coming years to build new facilities, the school district’s leaders said these funds will be used to maintain what they already have, saving taxpayers millions.

“The people in the community, they can see driving by that these buildings haven’t been painted in a long time,” Scoles said. “We really want to maintain what we have, this investment.

“Something like painting is not going to be the highest priority.”

What casual passers-by can’t see is what the district wants to fix immediately. Flashing and cracked siding and leaky plumbing at South Whidbey Elementary School is one of the higher priorities, which when properly repaired will prevent water damage to the structure.

Also listed is structural reinforcement at Langley Middle School. Once considered for consolidation with the high school, South Whidbey’s oldest active school building has issues. Most of the major concerns, however, are with the two-story building and auditorium, facilities at the LMS campus no longer used by the school.

“We want to do what’s reasonable at those buildings, such as installing plywood sheer walls, just increasing the strength of the buildings,” Scoles said. “We’ve had structural engineers and architects point out that the buildings are safe. They just don’t have modern anchors or as many plywood sheer walls.

“As a contractor, I can tell you buildings like that and older are built like Fort Knox. They just don’t have some of the modern hardware.”

Athletic items such as track resurfacing at the high school and painting the middle school gym were listed as items for a possible athletic bond. Field drainage at the middle school and some other district-wide athletic facilities’ repairs, however, were among the potential levy items. Supporters for grouping athletic facilities’ maintenance with the levy have argued that they are used by more than just students, such as the high school track and football field.

The school board will vote on the levy request for the February ballot at its Dec. 12 workshop and business meeting.

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