BISD committee designs improved schools

In the background at the Bainbridge Island School District, about 30 people have been working all year to decide how its schools will function in the future.

The Long Range Strategic Facilities Planning Committee is a group of volunteer community members, BISD employees and students led by district facilities director Dane Fenwick. The group creates a master plan for updates to BISD buildings that will last up to 75 years.

Among many priorities, the team considers state building codes, district sustainability goals, educational needs, student enrichment and visual appeal to establish a timeline for projects. Eventually, the committee’s plan will be presented to the school board, which will then make final suggestions before sending it to voters as a bond measure.

“We’ve heard that people want to address aging facilities first, and would prefer the easiest phasing process with minimal interruptions and impacts to the greatest number of students,” said JoAnn Wilcox, lead project manager and partner at Mithun Design. “These are steps, not priorities; they’re not asks, it’s a how-to.”

The Mithun team suggested that the district focus on its more ambitious capital projects early on.

At a committee meeting May 15, the the committee estimated that if the district started every project at the same time and finished them over a three-year period — a very unlikely scenario — it would cost about $365 million. The three larger projects could cost about $50 million now, but as inflation rises the price could balloon to almost double in 15 years, said Emily Everett, an architect at Mithun.

“Building the bigger projects first means a bigger bang for your buck,” Everett said. “Prioritization today is the big key.”

On May 13, the committee held its first open house to engage the public with potential project outlines. There were two sessions with 14 participants total; nine were parents of students at Commodore Options and Ordway Elementary. Seismic updates at those schools overwhelmingly were their top priority. Both were deemed a “high priority” for seismic improvements by the state in 2021.

Since January, seismic concerns have dominated public input around BISD facilities. Parts of Ordway, Commodore and the 500 building at Bainbridge High School received a semi-urgent “high priority” recommendation from the state due to their outdated, but reinforced wood and masonry construction materials, typical of many midcentury buildings.

Attendees also brought up the use of PCBs, or “forever chemicals,” in upcoming construction — a conversation that the committee had not yet discussed, member Jill Anderson said. The committee has focused its sustainability goals on integrating environmentally friendly design into building plans, like adding clean energy, minimizing waste and integrating more natural materials.

Mithun considers sustainability and connection to place crucial parts of its design philosophy — for example their fjord-inspired Nordic museum in Ballard.

The firm is also a strong proponent of the benefits of mass timber and natural light in schools, which is reflected in the hypothetical first looks that were presented to the committee. With renovations, some buildings could add window-lined breezeways, common areas and classrooms that integrate the outdoors.

The idea is to create something beautiful that suits most everyone’s needs and will last a long time, said Erin Bischoff, BISD public relations officer. ”Community support is dependent on a clear understanding of the community goals through bold, forthright and constructive critique,” Bischoff said. “By being thoughtful and forward-thinking, BISD can make smart decisions that lead to long-lasting facilities that our community can be proud of and that are financially sound.”