School district to float facilities bond

The Bainbridge school district is taking pencil and paper to matters of hammer and nail.

At issue: When in the 2002-03 time-frame should the board ask voters for money to finance capital-facilities construction and maintenance, and how much money should it seek.

“We want to be careful about understanding our needs,” school superintendent Steve Rowley said. “We will not put this (bond) forward in May, and almost surely not in September.

“We’re going to take our time.”

In considering its capital-facilities needs, the board decided against re-configuring Sakai Intermediate School by changing the age groups that attend. It also rejected the idea of closing one of the three elementary schools on the island.

It did, however, opt for demolishing part of the Commodore complex.

The construction and maintenance options presented to the board by the Capital Facilities Steering Committee range from a health- and safety-based “must-do” list of building improvements to a long-range, 20-year building program.

Neither is inexpensive. Taking care of the “must-do” list will cost about $11 million, while the 20-year plan would approach $30 million, according to what are described as “extremely preliminary” numbers.

The board has chosen the least costly strategy of shoring up existing facilities.

“In tough economic times, you want to be considerate and respectful of the taxpayer,” board member Ken Breiland said.

Most repairs will not be high-visibilty, but will include such items as re-siding portable classrooms and replacing underground piping.

Committee members say the “must-do’s” were developed around a five-year window.

“Some items might not be pressing today, but they would be within five years,” steering committee member Mike Currie said.

The fix-up work would not be rendered obsolete if the district later went to a 20-year make-over.

To prepare last week’s presentations to the school board, the steering committee, comprising school superintendent Steve Rowley, deputy superintendent Ken Crawford, business manager Peggy Paige, director of facilities and capital projects Mike Currie, and community members Clif McKenzie, Scott Mohr, Marguerite Thomas and Kevin Dwyer, met from October through December with representatives of Burr, Lawrence, Rising and Bates, the architecture firm that analyzed district buildings through the summer.

In Janury, after looking at building needs with BLRB input, the steering committee formulated cost options and their bond-rate impact.

The school board pondered possible options for re-configuring Sakai or closing an elementary school, but decided that the potential savings did not outweigh the up-front costs, disruption and educational disadvantages of larger class sizes.

“If we closed a school and enrollment crept up even slightly,” board member Ken Breiland said, “we’d have these really big schools. We were trying to save as much money as we could and it’s cheaper to run big buildings. But you do have to weigh efficiency against educational impact.”

Board members agree, however, that falling enrollment could prompt a another look.

“Our continuing duty is to consider wise use of taxpayers’ money. If conditions were to change, we would have to consider it (closing schools),” Weiland said.

Board members also concur that “Old Commodore,” the part of the school built in 1947 with 1951 additions, will be demolished.

“Old Commodore” houses part of Odyssey and the Home School programs, plus nonprofit tenants that include Bainbridge Youth Services, Bainbridge Island Broadcasting, Bainbridge Island Daycare, Parent and Child Center, Boys and Girls Club, Head Start and Parks Department programs.

“New” Commodore will stay. New Commodore consists of 1970, ‘78 and ‘81 additions, and houses portions of the district’s alternate programs, including Strawberry School, Odyssey Multi-age Classroom, Contract Studies, Renaissance and the Home School program.

Taking down the old Commodore building was one project originally intended to be funded by the 1997 bond, but that money was used instead to upgrade the Sakai gym for student and community use.

“It was a post-bond decision, “ Weiland said. “We decided to postpone taking down Commodore – and that wait turned into years.”

All the district Commodore programs will be preserved, board members say.

“We have a commitment to those programs,” Dale said. “It’s a strong one – and they know that.”

Whether the former Commodore library that houses Odyssey falls on the “demolish” or the “save” side of the line has yet to be decided. If the library can’t be shored up, then a similar space for the program will be found elsewhere in the district.

Of the nonprofits, all except BIB are slated for relocation in district buildings.

“Pulling BIB from the mix, all the other tenants align well with the school district mission,” Crawford said. “Whether BIB will play a role from a vocational education standpoint is still a point of discussion.”

With the board’s backing for a conservative bond issue, the steering committee will re-visit its “must-do” list.

“We may have been too technical and narrow,” McKenzie said.

The committee, which will be expanded to include more staff, parents and community members, will present a final set of recommendations to the board in late spring.

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