South Whidbey School District presents estimates of school repairs, improvements

Mike Johnson, the South Whidbey School District’s director of teaching and learning, explains how other school bond measures fared in the Sept. 9 special election. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Mike Johnson, the South Whidbey School District’s director of teaching and learning, explains how other school bond measures fared in the Sept. 9 special election.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

LANGLEY — It was another night of separating fact from fiction for the South Whidbey School Board.

Board members met in a special workshop Thursday to scrutinize the latest estimates for school repairs, renovations and the relocation of Langley Middle School to the high school campus.

The second half of the meeting, however, was spent shooting down rumors that are running rampant about the district’s consolidation plans, which hinge on a multi-million-dollar bond measure that may go before voters in May.

First, the facts.

District business manager Dan Poolman presented a detailed analysis of the costs of seismic upgrades at South End schools, the projected cost of other repairs, school improvements that have been requested and other improvements that district staff will not pursue.

The extended discussion was a needed starting point for the school board, as members consider how much to pack into a comprehensive bond measure for a community still being tested by a troubled economy, and a South Whidbey electorate that largely consists of voters who don’t have children in South End schools and never did.

Poolman first noted the estimates for seismic upgrades at local schools. All told, those upgrades total $7.6 million.

The middle school needs $5.3 million in work, and the primary school $2 million. The seismic upgrade at Bayview School is estimated at $303,294.

The repair bill for projects at the high school is $1.8 million. It includes work to fix leaky rooms; replacing carpeting; painting the interior; repairs to the auditorium, bleachers and backboards; and other projects.

Repairs at the middle school are more than $2 million. The list includes mortar work, painting, refinishing floors and carpeting, roofs for the gyms and other projects.

At the elementary school, repairs total $229,652 and include painting, cleaning duct work, repairing damaged hardware and other projects.

Not much work is needed at the primary school, just repairing and painting facias and soffits, estimated to cost $108,974.

A new roof at Bayview School, and regrading the ground near the school to prevent water seeping into the building, would cost $99,113.

The total repair bill is roughly $4.3 million.

On the requested improvement list, the high school has the highest-priced to-do list, at $5.1 million. It includes replacing the heating system and fire alarm system, and other projects, such as resurfacing the running track at Waterman Field.

Middle school requests total $3.8 million, and include masonry repairs, new windows, an improved heating system and a sprinkler system, and paving the front parking area.

A total of $291,525 in improvements have been estimated for the elementary school, which includes upgrading handicap access to restrooms and installing a restroom for special-education students.

Replacing windows, a sprinkler system, heating system improvements and other upgrades would cost $1.2 million at the primary school.

And at Bayview School, the requested improvement list totals $519,311. Projects include better plumbing and heating, new floors and windows and accessibility upgrades.

The list of requested improvements at all district schools totals $11 million.

There was also a fourth list; projects that district officials looked at, but pushed aside. The total cost of those improvements total $13.2 million.

Two proposals for the school consolidation effort have been suggested by the district’s advisors; one totaling $32.7 million, the other $25.7 million.

Poolman said the amount of repairs and requested improvements total $15.3 million of the estimates for both consolidation proposals.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy is expected to make his recommendation for the bond package on March 3. The school board is scheduled to approve the bond amount, the components of the package and the date it will appear on the ballot at the board’s meeting on March 24.

Mike Johnson, the district’s director of teaching and learning, noted that 11 school districts across the state had put bond measures before voters on Feb. 9, and all but four passed.

“I’m actually pleasantly surprised,” said board chairwoman Leigh Anderson.

Johnson said the bond measures that passed were the ones that had been fully explained to voters — why the funding was needed and how exactly it would be used.

That prompted some in the audience, however, to recite a familiar refrain. They said some are still unhappy about the decision to close Langley Middle School, which they said will make it difficult to pass any bond measure in the coming months.

Others brought up rumors circulating in the community, including comments attributed to board member Fred O’Neal, who supposedly said students would be shifted to new buildings whether the upcoming bond measure passes or not.

Another rumor: The board would not run a bond measure, but would still continue with consolidation.

O’Neal denied making such comments, and the other Fred in the room, the superintendent, said he had met with faculty members earlier in the week to talk about the district’s future.

McCarthy then recounted what was actually said, and why.

“One of the cultural things here is that we try to tell our staff before they read it in the paper or find it out from somebody else. Sometimes those messages aren’t very comfortable to convey,” McCarthy said.

“I did say I had a concern about a May bond issue based on the feedback we got during the levy election. That I believed there was an overwhelmingly negative attitude in the community ... toward the bond that was based on misunderstanding and the first numbers that came out in the newspaper.”

McCarthy said he also shared ideas he was leaning toward — such as what grade levels would be located in what buildings — and would tell the same thing to the staff at the high school and elementary during meetings this week and next.

“But I didn’t say anything definitive, because my final recommendation will come in on the third of March,” McCarthy said.

O’Neal recalled the meeting with PTA leaders earlier in the day, and the comments he actually did make.

“We’re on a compressed timeline. And maybe we’ll be able to come up with a bond” in May, he said.

“But if not, it will have to be put off to some other time. That’s different than saying there won’t be a bond,” O’Neal said. “It may or may not be May ... depending on if we can get our act together. That’s part of the complex set of decisions that has to be made.”

O’Neal also said only 8 to 9 percent of the voting public are people with children in South End schools.

Between 80 to 90 percent of people who pass the district’s bonds and levies don’t have children in the South Whidbey school system, or never did, he said.

“They are looking at a pattern of running four campuses half full, and yet, we are asking them for money. What do you think our long-term chances are if we let that trend continue and continue and continue?” O’Neal asked.

“We have some hard decisions to make,” he said. “And we haven’t made them yet. We’re wrestling mightily with what we’re going to have to do. But so far, no one has told me a plan that would make everybody happy.”

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