News

Voters will see school bond of $45 million

BHS classrooms, district-wide repairs will be decided in early ’06.

Calling the need critical and the amount salable, the school board agreed to put a $45 million construction bond before island voters early next year.

The bond will address overcrowding on the Bainbridge High School campus by adding classrooms and replacing the library and commons, and pay for a laundry list of repairs to school buildings district-wide.

“Everything on there is a real live need,” board member Bruce Weiland said of the list of facilities needs. “We’re not talking about building fancy things. We’re talking about things that are broken, or are breaking, or are wearing out, or are beyond their useful lives.”

The bond will share the ballot with a four-year, $6.1 million technology levy approved by the board just a week ago. Voters likely will see the twin measures in March, although the election date has yet to be decided.

A just-completed master planning process revealed $175 million in school facilities needs over the next 15 years.

Several of the aging elementary schools are in need of complete refurbishment or replacement, the study found, while the BHS campus, which was designed for about 900 students, now has an enrollment of 1,500.

Before the board Thursday evening were four “first-step” scenarios, ranging in cost from $48 million to $100 million. The most ambitious plan would have replaced aging Wilkes Elementary School and included a new community theater on the high school campus.

But the board opted for a conservative approach, a dollar amount that had the best chance of earning the required 60 percent support at the polls. Failure of a $8.9 million technology levy earlier this year – a significant blow for a district that had enjoyed decades of success at the polls – clearly informed the board’s thinking.

“The critical question is, what will our community support?” Weiland said. “ I look at it from risk analysis: what if we’re wrong?”

Agreed board member Cheryl Dale, “I think the community is counting on us to make a comeback.”

The decision for a $45 million bond came just two hours into what had been expected to be a marathon session, and followed extensive comment from parents, teachers and students.

The board actually heard considerable support for a larger bond package, even from south-end resident Tom Hemphill, who was among the more vocal opponents of the recent technology levy.

Hemphill acknowledged the district’s facilities needs and the inflationary forces on future construction, and said taxpayers would be better served by putting up more money sooner.

“Millions will be saved if we’re not penny wise and pound foolish,” Hemphill said.

Parents, meanwhile, urged the board to “show leadership” and put an ambitious package before voters.

“Our kids deserve better than the overcrowding that all of my children have lived through,” one woman said. “Go for the gusto!”

David Layton, representing the teachers’ union, said his organization had voted to campaign for the bond regardless of the amount.

The board opted for the lowest bond package, at the same time acknowledging that it would be just the first step in addressing facilities needs, and that they would likely go before voters with another bond within a few years.

Cost of the planned construction package will be closer to $48 million, but the district will apply about $3 million in school impact fees to the project, and additional monies may be available from the state.

Impact fees, collected on the construction of new island homes, by law must be used to address district growth, and so would be applied to the addition of new classrooms at BHS.

Assuming passage, the district would undergo a new planning process with architects, teachers and community members to design the new BHS buildings.

The district would break ground in mid-2007, for what is expected to be an 18-month construction cycle.

“This year’s freshmen would have one year to enjoy it,” Weiland said.

Repairs at other schools would begin as soon as possible.

School officials hailed the close of what proved to be a long and intense planning process.

Board president Dave Pollock praised volunteers and others who took part, while expressing some relief at the decision.

“My only disappointment,” he said, “is I don’t know what I’m going to think about at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

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School plans

BHS: Replace “200 building” (commons/library/cafeteria/office); add 14 classrooms, includes two outfitted for science instruction; misc. upgrades to other campus buildings: $33.8 million

Blakely: replace boiler and covered play area; misc. repairs: $1.1 million

Ordway: misc. repairs: $795,000

Wilkes: roof repairs and seismic upgrades, septic repairs, misc. repairs: $1.2 million

Sakai/Woodward: roofing, security lighting: $119,000

Commodore: roofing, misc. repairs: $1.3 million

District-wide: new maintenance facility; athletic field reconditioning; misc. facility upgrades; new phone system, misc. paving: $10.2 million

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