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South Whidbey school bond expected to top $25 million

Falcon quarterback Avery Buechner hands off the ball to fullback Mason Shoudy as tailback Sam Lee, left, provides backup at Waterman Field during a practice session on Monday. The South Whidbey School District will ask voters to approve replacing the field
Falcon quarterback Avery Buechner hands off the ball to fullback Mason Shoudy as tailback Sam Lee, left, provides backup at Waterman Field during a practice session on Monday. The South Whidbey School District will ask voters to approve replacing the field's grass with artificial turf as part of its $25 bond proposal.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

LANGLEY — The South Whidbey School Board has a firmer grip on what it will cost the school district — and taxpayers — to combine Langley Middle School and South Whidbey High School.

The new, bottom-line figure: $25 million.

At the school board meeting this week, board members nearly finalized the cost of the bond measure. The board’s final decision on November’s ballot measure is expected next week.

The proposed size of the bond is close to the midway point between earlier estimates for the consolidation effort, which ranged from $13.5 million to $43.6 million.

District Superintendent Fred McCarthy said the bond measure would pay for more than just the school-consolidation effort.

“The money will be used to repair and upgrade problem areas in all our buildings, and to prepare the high school to be a good learning environment for our children,” McCarthy said.

He added that since the current bond expires this year and island property values have gone up during the past 20 years, the annual tax bite from the new bond could be significantly lower.

If approved, the bond will cost the owner of a $350,000 home $157.50 per year, based on a rate of 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

During the board’s workshop on Wednesday, board member Steven Scoles questioned the

$2-million request for repairs at the former primary school. All former students in lower grades were moved to the elementary school this past year, and the facility now is home to Whidbey Island Academy and several special federally-sponsored programs.

“I’m not sure what to call this; is it part of consolidation?” he asked.

Fellow board members were quick to offer explanations.

“If enrollment ever does increase, the primary facility is where we will put the overflow,” said Board Chairwoman Leigh Anderson.

“This is our safety-clause building, our back-up if we need it to reflect changing conditions,” said Board Member Fred O’Neal.

McCarthy said the district has always viewed the primary building as a reserve resource, housing programs now located in mobile classrooms.

“It will hold special-education classes, board meeting space — freeing up the elementary school community room — and the district office as well as WIA,” he explained.

The biggest concern had to do with building a new gym at the high school exclusively for middle school students.

The most costly piece of the project centers on changes at the high school, which total $10.6 million in renovations that include four new classrooms and a gym for middle schoolers.

Site improvements, including an artificial turf at Waterman Field, total $3.6 million. Facility repairs are estimated to cost $10.5 million, and include work at the high school, primary building and Bayview School.

The gyms at Langley Middle School are heavily used for after-school and weekend activities by South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District programs.

Erin Simms, a parent with children in district schools, questioned the wisdom of shutting them down.

The school district intends to keep one gym in use, but officials said the others require expensive earthquake modifications.

“In the end, the square footage will be roughly the same once the new gym on the high school campus is built,” said business manager Dan Poolman.

Local businessman Damian Greene is worried about the bond not passing.

“What is your contingency plan if the bond fails?” he asked the board.

O’Neal said in that case, the board would come up with a cheaper plan and try again next year.

“Or, we might break it up into pieces — one for repairs and one for consolidation costs — while paring each down to the bare essentials,” he said.

McCarthy pointed out that the proposed plan is not the cheapest way to educate the district’s children.

“The $25 million reflects a compromise version to create two high- quality schools in one building,” he said.

O’Neal cautioned that the $25-million number is the best guesstimate, that no bids have been requested, and that the actual amount might be less given current economic conditions.

“If we’re conservative on the bond, we might be able to put the excess into a capital reserve fund,” he said. “That will help us handle problems down the road.”

Then O’Neal summed up the obvious.

“The final decision will be made by the voters, regardless of which plan is put forward,” he said.

The board will vote on the bond at its June 23 meeting.

Details of the $25 million bond measure

• Facility repairs ($10.5 million): At the high school, re-roofing, heating and air conditioning, clock system and fire alarm. Also included are upgrades at Bayview School and the primary building.

• New high school construction ($10.6 million ): Four new classrooms, a new gym, restrooms, support space and circulation.

• Site improvements ($3.6 million): Site preparation and new construction. Installation of artificial field turf at Waterman Field.

• High school remodeling ($300,000).

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@whidbeynewsgroup.com.

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