Play area at primary school closed following seismic study

Students at South Whidbey Primary School will have to find another place to avoid the rain at recess.

The covered play area between buildings on the south side of the school has been closed after a seismic study determined that it isn’t up to state earthquake standards, district Superintendent Fred McCarthy said this week.

“It’s inconvenient for students, but we think the report is significant enough to merit a response for the safety of the children,” McCarthy said.

He said the area will be sealed off.

The primary school buildings themselves are in no immediate danger from earthquakes, according to the study, although some retrofitting was recommended, he added.

In a letter to parents this week, McCarthy said the play area will remain closed for the remainder of the school year while district officials figure out what to do with it.

The seismic study of the primary school off Maxwelton Road was conducted by Seattle consulting engineers ABKJ, which completed a similar study last fall of Langley Middle School.

The $14,800 middle school study determined that the cost of retrofitting the school’s eight buildings to bring them up to earthquake-preparedness standards would be about $2.3 million.

ABKJ said the cost of reinforcing the cover over the primary school play area would be about $149,000, McCarthy said. The report said the cover “poses a significant safety risk” and that it should be retrofitted as soon as possible.

Already facing budget shortfalls from declining enrollment and dwindling state funding, the district is watching every penny, McCarthy said.

He said that since primary students will be moved to the nearby intermediate school this fall, the district may find it cheaper to tear down the roof over the play area rather than spend more money on it.

The study said the cost of bringing to earthquake readiness all the primary school buildings and structures, built in 1968 and remodeled twice in the 1990s, would be nearly $840,000.

Meanwhile, McCarthy said the district is moving ahead with a complete study of the needs of all its buildings. He said 15 architectural firms were invited to bid on the project.

District officials will use the results of the three-month study to determine how to proceed with needed facility upgrades.

“It will be the final piece of information for the school board to plan for the future,” McCarthy said.

Last fall, before the economy turned sour, the district was considering asking voters to approve a multi-million-dollar replacement bond issue next February to replace the current $19 million in bonds that will be retired in 2010.

With money tight, that timetable may be delayed, McCarthy said. Meanwhile, some funding for schools is included in the national recovery program which the district may be able to procure.

McCarthy said no seismic studies will be done on the intermediate school and high school because they were built later than the primary school and constructed using tougher earthquake-preparedness standards.

The intermediate school was finished in 1988. The high school was finished in 1982, with additions through the following years.

As of February, the primary school accommodated 295 students in kindergarten through second grade, with a few third-graders, and 83 students at Whidbey Island Academy, a home-school support program.

McCarthy said Whidbey Island Academy will continue at the school in four classrooms in the fall, and the rest of the rooms will be closed until other uses are found.

He said Senior Services of Island County, the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District and Skagit Valley College have all made inquiries, the former two submitting letters of intent.

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