Opinion

‘Yes’ on bond for school construction

A little over a year ago, the school board was poised to put a $40 million construction bond before voters.

It was a big number, and with it came questions of equal magnitude, most notably: Where was the master plan guiding the district’s investment in long-term capital needs?

“For all we know,” one citizen observed, with remarkable

prescience, “you may need even more.”

The board heeded the call for further study and, with a professional architecture firm, financiers, demographers and an advisory group of parents and educators, launched a top-to-bottom review of the district’s school buildings on its half-dozen campuses. And the need did indeed turn out to be much greater than first thought: more than $100 million in building renovation and replacement over the next 15 years.

As befits long-term needs, the board opted to tackle the resulting capital program in a series of smaller steps which the voters are asked to approve this week. Mail ballots go out today for a $45 million construction bond and a separate $6.1 million technology levy (more on the latter measure Saturday) to be decided on the putative March 14 election date. The Review endorses the school construction bond and urges readers to vote “yes” on what is the first such funding measure to go before island voters in nine years.

Bond funding will add classroom capacity and shore up aging and sagging buildings around the district – first and foremost the centerpiece of our school system, Bainbridge High School. Badly overcrowded – its core facilities were designed for perhaps 900 students, yet today serve a student population of 1,500 – the high school will get a dozen or so new classrooms and two new science labs; a new library, cafeteria and student commons; and a new assembly area and music facilities. The island’s three elementary school buildings will see improvements including roof repairs, heating and ventilation revamps and various structural upgrades to keep the buildings sound. The district’s maintenance building, a 50-year-old teardown, will be replaced. A laundry list of other health- and safety-related repairs are slated around the district, with needs ranging from septic systems to building security.

It should be apparent from this list that these are not discretionary projects; they are nuts-and-bolts needs, many of them too long deferred. Much as a house is to a family, the physical spaces occupied by a public school system are a community’s biggest capital investment. That investment requires upkeep and sometimes expansion, and now is one of those times.

Voters can take confidence that those citizens who were skeptical – rightly – of the school district’s vague plans a year ago have offered their support of the master plan and its definitive program for upgrades. Later this week, the district will announce formation of a new community advisory committee to help the district spend the money wisely. The master plan itself is available for review online at www.bainbridge.wednet.edu.

The Bainbridge Island School District’s $45 million construction bond deserves a “yes” vote for many reasons, not the least this one: there’s no rational alternative. The physical needs at our schools’ buildings aren’t going away, and the costs aren’t going down by putting off the work.

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