School bond won’t pay for all of Enumclaw High’s upgrades

The financial bombshell that rocked the Enumclaw School District has hit two groups the hardest athletes and aficionados of the performing arts.

Those two along with parents, fans and other supporters will not see their facilities upgraded as part of the looming Enumclaw High School renovation.

The news that was delivered around the holidays was simple and direct: the money made available as part of a 2015 bond issue will not cover the planned improvements. Axed from the proposed project were a new EHS gymnasium and performing arts center.

District administration quickly went public with news of the financial trouble, meeting with the Enumclaw Schools Foundation, PTA groups from throughout the district, the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce board of directors, members of the Enumclaw Rotary and others. In addition, Superintendent Mike Nelson put together a six-minute video that can be accessed from the district website.

Some background

It was the summer of 2014 when the school district hired an architectural firm to conduct a study of district facilities. Districts can have such studies done every six years, with state money picking up the tab. Eventually, it was determined that Enumclaw High and Black Diamond Elementary School should be the top priorities if work were to be done.

The school board voted in January 2015 to place a bond measure before voters in April and the measure, which asked for more than $68 million, was approved by a slim margin. Needing 60 percent support, it netted 60.05. Combined with more than $18 million in state matching money, the district prepared to spend more than $86 million at the two sites.

Plans to build a new, two-story Black Diamond Elementary are unchanged. The district’s recent bad news does not impact construction of the elementary school.

The process continues

As part of the natural planning cycle, Nelson explained during his video presentation, a team of engineers and architects took a look at planned revenues and expenditures.

In a meeting with The Courier-Herald, Nelson said it was determined the true cost of the high school project would be “significantly higher” than the board was led to believe.

In his video, Nelson said there are two reasons for the discrepancy. First, the projected amount to be contributed by the state was simply not accurate; and, second, “the actual hard cost of the building, the square foot cost,” also was inaccurate. The true cost of construction was off by 30 percent, Nelson said.

Facing too much project and too few dollars, members of the district administrative team and the five elected members of the Enumclaw School Board, were forced to make cuts to the list of planned improvements. The decision was to eliminate plans for a new gymnasium and new center for the performing arts.

Cutting those two projects, Nelson said, will save between $20 million and $22 million.

“We’re taking care of the core classrooms, the essential classrooms,” Nelson said. Plans call for construction of a two-story, secure and enclosed structure on the south side of the EHS campus that would replace aging classrooms, the library and science labs.

Also part of the decision, Nelson said, was the fact that both the gym and arts center could be completed separately with minimal disruption on campus. When the high school project goes out for bid, the district will ask that the gym and arts center be included as alternates, so everyone has a future cost in mind.

Who gets the blame?

When asked where the blame sits, Nelson is hesitant to point fingers. Instead, he simply notes that the district and its board of directors were given bad information early in the planning process.

In connection with Nelson’s video presentation is a brief written document detailing the financial situation. As part of a Next Steps section, it is written that the board and staff will “continue to hold entities accountable for the work” that led to the present situation.