Board to review more cost estimates on South Whidbey High School-Middle School consolidation effort

LANGLEY — The swirl of numbers involved in the consolidation of Langley Middle School with the high school will increase at tonight’s school board meeting.

South Whidbey School Superintendent Fred McCarthy will present estimates to the school board on the relative costs of moving the sixth-graders to the high school, moving them to the primary school or folding them in with elementary school students.

Currently, LMS houses sixth through eighth grades. McCarthy believes the transition should include all three grades moving to the high school. Some have argued, however, that younger children should not be exposed to older children.

But McCarthy has stated that unless the school board asks him to go in a different direction, sixth-graders will move to the high school, but be separated from the other grades.

Earlier this month, board member Rich Parker asked McCarthy to look at other options.

Parker said that discussions with parents revealed that people are worried about mixing pre-teens with teens and the potential for overcrowding and that a solution must be found well before the fall 2012-planned move.

That move is at the core of the board’s plan to put a bond issue before voters later this year or early in 2011.

McCarthy has recommended an initial bond amount of $12.8 million (for grades six through 12), most of which will go for building repairs (including seismic upgrades), improvements at all schools and more than $2 million for prep work at the high school to get it ready for middle school programs and students.

Rough financial projections from business manager Dan Poolman indicate it would take $20.8 million to move all LMS students to the primary school, and a bit more than $13 million to move just the sixth-graders to the primary school.

However, McCarthy has other plans for the school.

He said the facility is intended for the district office — moving there from its current location this summer — Whidbey Island Academy, Head Start and the Family Resource Center. Other programs, funded by grants, might follow.

It has been a rough year-and-a-half for school officials.

During the past 18 months, the board has dealt with declining enrollment, reduced state funding of education, deferred building maintenance concerns and a $1.85 million budget shortfall.

The district estimates combined enrollment for both the middle and high schools to drop from 939 this year to approximately 803 by 2012.

About the only good news was the successful extension of the capital and technology levy that voters approved in February.

Last summer, a facilities report prepared by TCF Architecture found it would take between $20 million and $25 million to build a new middle school from scratch.

The estimates did not include soft costs, such as state sales taxes, surveying, permits, legal fees, a construction manager, demolition and clearing, stormwater and drainage.

That estimate, plus the enrollment figures, convinced the school board to close the 75-year-old campus in Langley and transfer operations to the high school.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the elementary school’s community room.

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