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High school tops list of levy projects

Bring these people an apple! New teachers in Bainbridge schools (and at least one  returning  face who sneaked into the photo) this year include (front row, L-R): Christopher Sharp, Nancy Transue, Rebecca Grue and Brian Skare; (second row) Leslie Alber, Susan Knottnerus, Kimberly Kooistra, Scott Druker, Elizabeth Finin, Bernardo Alonso, Summer Caldwell; (third row) Karen Keller, Megan Reha, Sarah Bourland, Loanne Harmeling, Gordon Black, Jessica Stapleton,  Dan Pippinger; (at back) Matthew Pedersen; (top three center) Kris Tjemsland, Lynn Allee and Cliffard Lemieux.  - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Bring these people an apple! New teachers in Bainbridge schools (and at least one returning face who sneaked into the photo) this year include (front row, L-R): Christopher Sharp, Nancy Transue, Rebecca Grue and Brian Skare; (second row) Leslie Alber, Susan Knottnerus, Kimberly Kooistra, Scott Druker, Elizabeth Finin, Bernardo Alonso, Summer Caldwell; (third row) Karen Keller, Megan Reha, Sarah Bourland, Loanne Harmeling, Gordon Black, Jessica Stapleton, Dan Pippinger; (at back) Matthew Pedersen; (top three center) Kris Tjemsland, Lynn Allee and Cliffard Lemieux.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Age and bulging enrollment put the school at the forefront of facilities planning.

Short on classrooms, shorter still on elbow room. That’s Bainbridge High School this fall.

With a projected enrollment of some 1,490 students on a campus designed for 850-900, teachers and students alike will be pressed for space from the get-go.

“We’re really going to have a full house,” said Brent Peterson, BHS principal, as teachers and staff prepped the campus for opening day Sept. 7.

“What we’ll be struggling with is, what do we do next fall?” he said. “We really are at the point of ‘no room at the inn.’ We can get through this year, but we’re not sure where we go next year.”

The space crunch has vaulted the high school to the top priority as school officials try to meet facilities needs for the next 15 years.

Tuesday evening, a facilities committee was expected to recommend to the school board that the district put a $45.47 million construction bond before island voters next spring, to expand the high school and make other building upgrades around the district.

The levy would address “health/life safety” needs, including roof and heating repairs at several aging schools, replace the district maintenance facility and pay for a new district-wide communications system. The levy would also establish a contingency fund for future emergency repairs.

The recommendations do not include replacement of the BHS theater building, but would earmark $500,000 toward an artificial turf field at the high school, with a challenge to the community to match that amount through fund-raising.

“When you have such a wide variety of inadequacies, where do you begin?” asked Tamela VanWinkle, project manager for the school district. “This is the minimum first step, and it’s about housing students and core facilities. It’s an obvious first step.”

On the same ballot, voters could also see a second levy being called a “prudent first step” toward meeting other facilities needs, in an amount of perhaps $23.5 million. That bond would replace or modernize one elementary school – probably Wilkes, built in 1954 – with the new school designed as a prototype for future school replacements.

“We’re talking about bricks and mortar and all that stuff, but it’s really about our kids and our future,” VanWinkle said.

The school board was to consider the recommendations at a Tuesday evening study session, deliberations that occurred after press time.

The discussions are part of an ongoing master-planning process undertaken by the district at the behest of citizen groups.

Architectural consultants last week told officials that Bainbridge school facilities need an investment of between $57 million and $168 million over 15 years, depending on whether the district chooses a “patch up” approach or full modernization of the older schools.

But the top priority is now official: Bainbridge High School.

“When it’s pushing 1,500, it just screams that you need to take care of this first and foremost,” VanWinkle said.

Spillover this year will put nine teaching stations and some 250-300 BHS students in the Commodore building at any given time, Peterson said, where they’ll bump up against Eagle Harbor High School and other “Options” programs.

“We call this ‘dual citizenship’ now, with all their classes down here,” said Catherine Camp, principal of the Commodore Options programs.

“We definitely are sympathetic to their overcrowding, and are doing our best to help them through this phase.”

To some fanfare, the district last year reclaimed a dismal, unused locker room next to a downstairs gymnasium, creating a shining new cafeteria and commons area for Commodore students.

Now a significant portion of that cafeteria has been eaten up by BHS, converted over the summer to two classrooms.

“Certainly the hope was, we wouldn’t need to go there,” Peterson said. “But the design was completed in such a manner that those spaces could be reassigned based on immediate needs. Financially and timing-wise, it was the most viable alternative.”

A teachers’ lounge also was converted to a classroom.

While the BHS bulge is dramatic, district officials believe enrollment eventually will tail off. Demographic studies show that the island population is “graying,” while soaring housing costs are keeping young families out of the community.

The present enrollment spike should last for a few years, while students already in the system make their way through to graduation.

After that, BHS enrollment is expected to settle at around 1,400 for the long term.

Even with a successful bond measure next year, BHS won’t see new classroom space for several years. VanWinkle said she would like to see construction begin in 2007.

“We don’t all vote ‘yes’ and have a building the next day,” Peterson agreed. “We know that’s it’s going to be a very tight scenario.”

Community Events, April 2014

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