School bond campaign starts now

The challenge, as it has been accurately described,

is largely one of overcoming appearances.

People drive past an elementary school, and by golly, there it stands. Unless they happen to have an offspring inside, they may well have never set foot inside the building, and will have no idea of its age or condition; and unless that offspring’s classroom environment is compromised by a lack of space or amenities – like the developmental kindergarten program at Blakely, housed in a dumpy portable with no plumbing – they are probably unaware of physical problems that have beset the building over time.

And why would anyone be aware of such, unless it’s pointed out to them? Bringing these hidden problems to light is the challenge for the Bainbridge Island School District as it develops a 10-year

strategy for meeting school facility needs.

Earlier this year, school officials mulling a multimillion-dollar capital bond were chastened for not having a suitable master plan to guide campus development. They responded by hiring an architectural firm to look in-depth at building deficiencies and needs, a preliminary report on which was made this week. The findings suggest that at the very least, substantial repairs and/or remodels are needed at the three elementary schools; several may be better fit for replacement. It’s the second report in a matter of days to cast local school buildings in a bad light; visiting officials evaluating Bainbridge High School for continued accreditation said students and teachers there are thriving largely in spite of the condition of the older, cramped buildings around them.

Wednesday in this space, we suggested off-handedly that school officials should get such information into broad circulation in the community. We reiterate that today.

Why? For one thing, the recent failure of the technology levy demonstrates that school funding measures are no longer a “gimme” in this district, certainly not when there is no shared sense of immediacy or need. Too, there is nothing preordained about what the district will be asking for when the bond finally rolls around (this fall, or perhaps next spring). The sooner facilities’ needs are taken to the public, the more likely the community will help shape the goals and the funding plan. And the more likely the bond levy will succeed.

Building a new school (or two) is an expensive proposition. But so is maintaining an old one, and the Bainbridge community needs to start thinking about the trade-offs of each.

Nobody’s asking the district to run a levy campaign (which must be left up to volunteers anyway). But the master plan effort is turning up new and essential information that should be in the hands of public school “consumers” – parents, civic and business leaders, random taxpayers – long before the district gets anywhere near the ballot. Get the findings out there – now – and let them be subjected to the acid test of public scrutiny, before anyone talks about dollars. Unless there is a common understanding of the physical needs on our school campuses, the cost of a bond election may well be wasted again.

You can’t tell anything about a school building from the

outside. Redouble the effort to bring people in.

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