Remaking South Whidbey High School to also serve middle school students may cost $24 million

LANGLEY — It may cost about $24 million to get South Whidbey High School ready to receive middle school students by September 2012.

And that's just for starters.

Architect Brian Fitzgerald of TCF Architecture presented the school district consolidation committee with a conceptual design wish list proposal totaling $43.3 million on Wednesday. That number includes such amenities as artificial turf and new track surface for the sports fields (roughly $8 million), a green house ($91,000), portable bleachers ($30,000), two covered tennis courts ($583,200) and an exterior climbing wall ($5,000).

Whether those items make the final cut is up to the committee, which is charged with making recommendations to District Superintendent Fred McCarthy on the movement of grades six, seven and eight to the high school campus by the start of the 2012 school year. The middle school will operate as a separate school with a middle school philosophy and instructional program co-located on the high school campus.

Last June, a large-scale facilities report found it would take $18 million to $25 million to get the 75-year-old Langley Middle School back on its feet.

That finding, and continuing student population concerns, prompted the school board to order the middle school closed.

"This was the first look at the price and size of what everyone wants," McCarthy said. "Brian has given us multiple options to improve the school and get ready for the move in two years.

Fitzgerald grouped the costs for new academic spaces at $10.9 million, remodeled and upgraded current areas of the high school at $1.7 million, new gym and field house at $7.9 million and another $3.5 million for walkways, landscaping and other site-related items.

"All the figures include 'soft costs' which are defined as state sales taxes, surveying, permits, legal fees, a construction manager, furnishings, demolition and clearing, stormwater and drainage."

He added that the committee must balance what is needed versus what the community can afford.

The state budget crunch and declining enrollment have forced the issue. The district estimates enrollment for both Langley Middle School and the high school combined to drop from 939 this year to approximately 715 by 2015.

On May 18, the school district will ask voters to approve a long-term bond to cover the cost of renovation and construction; officials expect the final numbers to be quite different than those presented this week.

"The plan presented is nowhere near the finished product," McCarthy noted. "The challenge for the committee is to bring the plan down to the reality of what the community can support, given tough economic times."

Fitzgerald, of TCF Architecture, also showed conceptual design drawings of what the new additions would look like.

"There are separate entries for both the high school and middle school," he said. "It was clear that both the committee and public wanted the middle-schoolers to maintain their sense of identity in separate facilities."

The plan calls for current classrooms to be refitted and new ones added along the north side of the high school campus. A new parking lot, courtyard, walkways, a sports field house and middle school gym are also on the table, part of the overall package that could cost $24 million.

Committee members will now take the list and assign a priority number from one to three, noting whether the item is essential to middle school students and programs, highly desirable or something that would be nice to have.

The committee will make its first presentation to the school board on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

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