News

Aging South Whidbey school buildings need upgrades

Brian Miller, the maintenance director of South Whidbey schools, examines the pipes and valves of the water pump station. Leaky seals, corrosion and lack of valves require consistent work, and the school district wants taxpayers to approve two levies totaling $5.9 million to cover a range of projects such as pump house repairs and upgrades.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Brian Miller, the maintenance director of South Whidbey schools, examines the pipes and valves of the water pump station. Leaky seals, corrosion and lack of valves require consistent work, and the school district wants taxpayers to approve two levies totaling $5.9 million to cover a range of projects such as pump house repairs and upgrades.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Cracked siding, a leaky atrium and broken heating units need repair.

Addressing those issues requires money that the South Whidbey School District doesn’t have. That’s why the school board will seek a pair of levy approvals, worth about $5.9 million annually, from South Whidbey voters.

Voters can begin deciding on the proposals as soon as this week. Michele Reagan, voter registration deputy at the Island County Auditor’s Office, said plans are to bring the ballots to the post office today, Jan. 23. Voters can expect them in their mailboxes as early as Thursday or Friday. The deadline to return them is Tuesday, Feb. 12.

“The board and superintendent are unanimous in supporting this way of taking care of our buildings and going forward at this point,” said Steve Scoles, chairman of the South Whidbey School Board.

A recent tour with Dan Poolman, assistant superintendent of business and transportation, and Brian Miller, the district’s maintenance director, exposed some of the wear-and-tear the aging buildings suffer. Together with Superintendent Jo Moccia, the district leaders put together a tentative six-year plan for maintenance repairs and upgrades to the facilities built in the late 1980s.

“They’re 30-year-old systems and they’re going to fail,” Poolman said.

Miller added: “We were having trouble with finding replacements for some of the parts.”

The school board asked for an extension of its $3.9 million maintenance and operations levy. At a levy rate of $1.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value, South Whidbey was well below the school district average of $2.03 in Washington.

Making up for the $1 difference is South Whidbey’s new combo capital/tech levy. For the past three years, South Whidbey had a tech levy rate of 20 cents per $1,000 that paid for a range of equipment including the district’s iPad and iPod programs in the elementary and middle schools.

Now, the school district wants to more than double that to 53 cents to receive $2 million annually until 2020. Of the $2 million, $1.25 million would be used for maintenance, deferred maintenance and energy efficiency upgrades.

“It’s a response to the failed bond of 2010,” Scoles said. “That one would have provided approximately $8 million to $10 million to take care of these things.” 

If approved, the owner of a $300,000 property would annually pay $471 for schools. The increase in the capital/tech levy — the only South Whidbey levy that is increasing — amounts to about $75 more for the owner of a $300,000 property.

‘Newest’ facility hurting

South Whidbey’s newest facility is the annex and gym at the high school, and that section is almost 20 years old. Siding on the exterior of the new commons has separated from the wall. Miller pulled it out an inch, wary of what damage waited underneath. Replacing the siding could be a simple “cosmetic” fix, like removing and filling holes and dents high above the auditorium’s exterior where golf balls (one was stuck in the Dryvit) were hit during unauthorized driving practice.

More often than a white ball stuck 40 feet high, the school’s leaky atrium gets noticed. The large glass ceiling leaks where it meets the walls. Water trickles down into the stairwell near the patio. Dark, lush green moss grows at the bottom of stairs where the atrium and the stair walls join. Fixing that would require a new roof, Miller said, which would reduce some of the natural light flooding the area where students dine, but would also reduce the need for cleaning and inspection.

Over all of the various projects at the district’s four schools South Whidbey High School, Langley Middle School, South Whidbey Academy and South Whidbey Elementary School priority was given to issues that affected classrooms, like heating.

“Instructional space would be a higher priority,” Miller said.

Pump house needs work

But one facility requires immediate attention. The district water treatment plant, tucked into the woods about 60 feet from Maxwelton Road across from the high school, had seen better days. The treatment half of the facility, managed by King Water Company, was built three years ago. It gently hummed as water was cleaned and transferred to the pump house that’s where rusty pipes, a worn sensor and leaky seals existed.

Though the pump house operates well enough to flush, pour and rinse, rusty pipes weren’t likely to improve themselves over time. It also operates the schools’ fire suppression sprinkler system, which was not at risk from the maintenance issues.

“Right now, there wouldn’t be any catastrophic concerns, just leaks,” Miller said.

“It’s just some expensive maintenance work that needs to be done.”

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Oct 1 edition online now. Browse the archives.