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School ‘master plan’ slated

Some of the Bainbridge school board’s most vocal critics became advocates Thursday, when it was agreed that voter-financed school projects will be explained in a new “master plan.”

“I give the board a lot of credit for their willingness to make sure it’s done right,” said Bob Fortner of the Bainbridge Resource Group, which has requested such a plan for months. “The school board has created an opportunity to engage in a whole new concept of capital planning, and it’s truly exciting.”

A somewhat adversarial tone had developed between the board and BRG members in recent planning meetings on the proposed $40 million school construction bond, which was tentatively set to go before voters in May.

But that shifted to expressions of mutual appreciation Thursday, when the board agreed to create a master plan and invited BRG group members into the process.

Board president Susan Sivitz said the document could help guide the path of future boards, providing continuity.

“As a board that is constantly changing, this really helps to show where we’ve been and where we are going. It’s a real gift we can give,” she said.

BRG member Patty Fielding, now retired from a master planning career in health care, provided the board with nuts-and-bolts guidance on what a master plan does and what it looks like.

The plan is envisioned as a framework marrying district vision, program needs and facilities needs while articulating relationships, timelines and costs.

Fielding will be among the school board members, staff, architects and planners on the master plan committee. The group met for the first time Wednesday.

With a sample document to work from, she said, “it was a really good way for us to see our common ground, instead of our differences. And there is a tremendous amount of common ground.”

A master plan can explain to the public, in lay terms, what is needed and why: “I think you’ll find it an incredibly powerful way to make decisions,” Fielding told the board.

It is not yet known whether development of the plan will delay the May 17 election for the bond, which will finance the renovation and expansion of Bainbridge High School.

While the board still hopes to meet that date, school Superintendent Ken Crawford advised against rushing, noting that an election in September or November would still allow ground-breaking at the high school to get under way in the summer of 2006.

The board hasn’t yet decided whether to put a $10 million technology levy on the ballot May 17, or to postpone it as well.

Board member Bruce Weiland favors trying to stick to the May election date. But he said Thursday that a master plan could indeed be valuable tool come election time, presenting “the links between our goals and our facilities choices, and to help the community see those,” he said.

Some key issues about high school improvements still have to be made.

In the Ordway school library at 4 p.m. next Thursday, the board will discuss the costs and benefits of installing artificial turf on the fields; and of building a performing arts facility, possibly in collaboration with other arts organizations.

Another benefit of a master plan, board members agreed, is that it would allow them to plan for the “big picture” of school facilities needs, and to make those needs known to the public in a tangible way.

That might help prevent the common scenario of postponing projects that have been on the “to do” list for years, out of fears that asking the voters for too much might result in the failure of a bond measure.

“Let’s go out there with a plan and defend it, and not with what we think people will tolerate,” Sivitz said.

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Field of seams

The Bainbridge Island School District will discuss artificial turf for fields and options for a new performing arts facility at the high school, during a bond planning session from 4-6:30 p.m. in the library at Ordway Elementary School. For details, check the district’s website at www.bainbridge.wednet.edu.

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