South Whidbey School District eyes levy to repair aging buildings

LANGLEY — There’s work to be done at the South Whidbey School District.

LANGLEY — There’s work to be done at the South Whidbey School District.

In just her second year on the job, District Superintendent Jo Moccia had enough of the cosmetic, functional and safety problems and laid out a draft plan for a new levy and six-year maintenance schedule.

“It seems to me to be a wise decision to put together a levy … so that we can plan,” Moccia told the school board Wednesday night during its workshop.

“We have some serious maintenance issues.”

Leaky roofs, split siding, torn carpeting, broken heating and cooling systems and cracked parking lots have marred the district’s buildings for years. Over the years, the school district’s maintenance staff has repaired and held the aging and decaying buildings together. The cost has become too much of a burden for the school district, which has lost substantial funding with state budget cuts and declining enrollment.

“Let’s get something current and up-to-date, then maintain it, rather than having some guys patch it together over a summer,” Moccia said. “At $200,000 a year, we’re never going to catch up.”

The school board looked over the maintenance issues draft along with 20 other workshop observers — teachers, parents and principals. The consensus among the school district personnel was that items checked “immediate” should be the priority for the levy’s funds, which if approved would be available in 2014.

Board Chairman Steve Scoles said some of the “big-ticket” and more visible projects — like carpeting, siding and HVAC replacements — should be added to the list, too. He and levy committee co-chairman Dean Hatt agreed the emphasis for the levy should be on items that voters may not see driving by the buildings, but impact students.

“It’s just like any homeowner, you have water damage,” Hatt said. “Well, the building is just bigger, and there are several buildings. You need to communicate that.”

The potential cost of the levy was not set, but the total discussed was somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million per year over six years. Without a specific goal like the previous technology levy for iPods and iPads for students and other equipment and education, the coming levy will be for dozens of repairs and replacements across the district’s facilities.

“Any money we ask for is going to be seen as a tax increase,” said Board Member Fred O’Neal.

Items like an audio system for the gyms at Langley Middle School were costly, around $80,000. Anything related to athletic facilities, however, was designated for an athletic bond the district may pursue, along with resurfacing the tracks at the middle school and South Whidbey High School.

“We could easily spend $1 million on athletic upgrades,” Scoles said.

Those facilities and fields are used by the schools’ physical education classes, however. John Patton, principal at South Whidbey High School, defended the potential grouping of the track resurfacing with the maintenance levy because the 400-meter loop is used by students regularly, as well as the community.

Moccia and the board remained on the side of operations and safety before extracurriculars.

“To me, it’s a priority to have a good PE facility, but it’s a bigger priority to have heat in the gym,” Moccia said.

One item was briefly discussed for a district-wide upgrade. Moccia talked about the possibility of a keyless entry system, though it was not checked on any of the columns in the draft. The card system would allow the district to monitor who enters the buildings and at what time. Last year, there was a break-in at the middle school that resulted in some bathroom and classroom vandalism. Security cameras were also discussed as a possible upgrade and are on the “immediate” and “first three years” columns.

“It’s no secret to me that there are many, many people with keys to our buildings,” Moccia said. “And it’s a safety issue.”

Many of the 80 listed items did not have repair or replacement estimates at Wednesday’s meeting. That was the levy committee and Moccia’s top priority from the workshop: find out how much some of the maintenance issues will cost, then figure out the levy request.

“Cost is a big, important factor,” Scoles said.