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Long-term campus facilities needs look really big

Formal proposals are due Tuesday, as the cost of school revamps adds up.

Bold.

Underscored.

Italic.

The school district will not ask voters for a $168 million bond levy to pay for facilities upgrades next year – and they’re hideously afraid someone might come to that conclusion.

But a draft – that’s draft – 15-year master plan for the district’s six campuses suggests capital facilities needs on a scale probably unimaginable when the planning exercise began earlier this year.

The document, discussed by school officials at a Thursday workshop in advance of formal recommendations that are due next week, suggests it will take an unprecedented investment by Bainbridge taxpayers to shore up local public school buildings over the next decade and a half.

And almost as soon as that need was laid bare, school officials went out of their way to soften the expected impact on the public consciousness.

“When you look at a column of numbers, your brain can’t help but go to the bottom line,” said Bruce Weiland, school board member. “But this is a 15-year plan.”

Butch Reifert of Seattle’s Mahlum Architects presented the latest findings of an ongoing capital needs assessment begun earlier this year.

The board had previously heard reports on the condition of each school building, as well as ancillary facilities like the bus barn and the maintenance shed.

Some of the older buildings – including Blakely Elementary School, built in 1965, and Wilkes, with wings dating to 1954 and 1978 – are said to be at the end of their “serviceable lives.”

Among the deficiencies are fire sprinklers, poor insulation and aging heating and plumbing systems. The high school, with a student population of 1,400, was designed for perhaps 900 students, and is short at least a dozen classrooms.

This week’s report puts dollar figures to the needs of each campus, to simply “patch” them up or to fully modernize the buildings through remodels or replacement.

The newer school buildings, Woodward and Sakai, are in decent shape today, the report said. But at the far end of the master plan’s horizon, they will be 20-25 years-old themselves and will require various upgrades.

The study assumed that the configuration of grades would stay the same and that no schools would be closed.

Thrown into the mix were such possibilities as a new community theater and an artificial turf football field on the high school campus.

Taken together, the scenarios suggested costs ranging from $56.6 million to “patch up” the buildings, to $168 million over 15-plus years for full modernization across the district.

“It’s like if you asked how much garlic you eat for dinner over a 15-year period,” Weiland said, trying to put the numbers in some kind of perspective. “You can’t imagine you could eat that much garlic.”

Reifert said school construction costs have increased significantly in recent years, with more stringent building codes and general inflation.

The actual price of a single new school building can be expected to be 50 percent over construction costs once taxes, permit and inspection fees and other “soft costs” are factored in, he said.

Sakai Intermediate School, for example, cost $12.25 million to build in 1998; the price tag would be $17.51 million if it were built today, Reifert said.

As to why the district’s older buildings need replacement, Reifert said they were thrown up to meet the need for classroom space brought on by the post-war “baby boom.” The brick-and-mortar construction of earlier generations gave way to cheaper, quicker wood-frame designs.

“The buildings that were built in the 1930s, those are the ones that are being saved,” Reifert said.

The very terms with which to discuss school facilities came into question. Officials and volunteers steered away from the idea of presenting a “model” campus, favoring more bland terms like a “basic” or “standard” program.

“You don’t want people thinking you’re trying to keep up with Mercer Island,” one audience member said. “If you can make it clear you’re trying to keep up with Nathan Hale (High School in Seattle), they’ll have a different attitude.”

The board will meet Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the BHS library to hear formal proposals. The report will prioritize campus needs and give direction to a construction bond levy likely to go before voters next February.

A public outreach program is planned to ask for the community’s help. Thursday, one audience member suggested that school officials use high school juniors and seniors as a test audience.

“If they can’t understand this, there’s no way the public’s going to understand it,” he said.

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