News

District hears recommendation for building plans

By Brenda Sexton, The Courier-Herald

Charged with deciding how to handle the Enumclaw School District's aging schools, a group of administrators, principals, teachers, parents and community members took a "triage" approach - rather than continuing a Band-Aid approach to cover repairs, they suggested major surgery.

"Let's just do it and do it right," Joan Welsh told the Enumclaw School Board at its March 17 meeting, where the district's Facilities Study and Survey Advisory Committee issued its recommendations.

The committee is suggesting the board put approximately $33.5 million worth of capital school projects before voters on an upcoming ballot. That would pay for:

€ modernization of Kibler Elementary ($7.9 million);

€ replacement of J.J. Smith Elementary at the Thunder Mountain property ($9.3 million);

€ a roof and HVAC system for Enumclaw Middle School ($2.9 million);

€ modernization of the 200 and 300 wings and the music and science facilities at Enumclaw High School ($9 million);

€ modernization of the final two wings at Westwood Elementary ($3.9 million);

€ and a roof on Southwood Elementary ($80,000), central restrooms at Black Diamond Elementary ($75,000) and utility infrastructure upgrades for $250,000.

"We chiseled at this on what was our final meeting day, because it was much higher," committee member Jeff Iunker said.

The committee challenged the board to package it and put it before voters.

"If we don't do them now, when will we do them?" asked Will Monin, whose wife was on the committee. "If the people in 1950 hadn't stepped up where would we be today?"

The committee is hoping the board will add a second group of priorities, which would add another $3.5 million and includes improvements on McDougall Street, the transportation area, Southwood parking lot, the high school drop-off road and the modernization of eight classrooms and the gymnasium at Black Diamond. The later is the most costly at $2.2 million.

The decision will not be easy for the board, as just the suggestion brought heavy discussion at its regular meeting. The board made plans to gather again on Monday for more discussion.

The district is still stinging from last year's efforts, when voters balked - not once but twice - at a six-year, $11.4 million capital projects levy. Both times the issue was supported by more than half the voters, but failed to meet the 60 percent level, as required by law. A bill that would no longer require school districts to meet that "super majority" requirement is now before the state Legislature.

Although many of the district's schools are thought to be needing work, most of the regular board meeting discussion revolved around J.J. Smith. The committee recommends a new K-5 facility be built on property, already owned by the district, near Thunder Mountain Middle School on the north end of Enumclaw where the district anticipates future growth. J.J. Smith is a 46-year-old cinderblock building wedged between Griffin Avenue, Fell and Marshall streets in the middle of a tight neighborhood that makes access difficult. Committee members said safety was their top priority.

Kibler Elementary also was high on the priority list. The building, which turns 50 years old this year, would also house K-5 students. The proposal would be to retain the school at its Kibler Avenue location to serve students in town. The plan would be to demolish and rebuild half the school.

In 1956, the west wing was added to Kibler. A small office was added in 1989, and a permanent library addition, which would not be altered, was built on the northeast corner in 1992.

Board member Andrew Willner questioned other options for J.J. Smith.

Jerry Lawrence, representative for the architectural firm of Burr, Lawrence, Rising and Bates, said there were two other options the committee looked at for J.J. Smith. One was to build a new school at its current location, which would cost approximately $8.5 million. The other was to modernize J.J. Smith for $6.5 million. The difference between modernizing the building at its current location and building at Thunder Mountain would cover the modernization of Black Diamond Elementary, Willner pointed out.

Board member Nancy Merrill said the district just replaced doors and windows at J.J. Smith last summer with $226,000 used from leftover bond money.

The committee noted J.J. Smith would probably see five more years of students as it was used during construction and modernization projects.

Superintendent Art Jarvis highlighted the positive aspects to suggesting a bond issue during tough economic times.

"Bad times are traditionally good times for public works projects," he said, adding that low interest rates, a favorable bid climate and a need to create jobs will help the district.

Jarvis also noted the district will try to keep its total tax rate in the $5.37 range, minimizing the additional tax hit on district property owners. "We can stay inside that or come awfully close," he said. It was also noted the district would be eligible to receive matching funds from the state.

For the district to best take advantage of the favorable economic climate, it would be looking to put a request on the May 20 ballot. The county's filing deadline is April 4. If the district doesn't make that deadline, or chooses not to go with an April vote, the next election date would be Sept. 16.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com

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