School bond measure — take two.
Yes, the Enumclaw School District is putting another bond to voters after the previous attempt last spring resulted in the worst rejection rate in district history.
The ESD Board of Directors voted unanimously to put the $103 million bond on the November general election ballot during its July 24 meeting.
The bond aims to bring in enough funds to construct a new elementary school and Birth to Five Center in Enumclaw, replacing the aging Byron Kibler and J. J. Smith elementary schools.
“I am concerned about our students at Kibler Elementary School who… has had some issues with buckets in the hallways, running rain water down walls — that is something that has to be addressed,” said Superintendent Dr. Shaun Carey.
The bond would also pay for enhancing safety and security measures and conduct various repairs and upgrades to mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural systems district-wide.
This is a much-slimmed-down bond compared to the previous one, where for $253 million, ESD wanted to build the new Enumclacw elementary, plus a new elementary school in Black Diamond, a new performing arts center at Enumclaw High, a new sports stadium, and the various security and repairs work.
The November bond measure, if approved by a supermajority (60%) of voters, would increase taxes all around the school district.
What the tax rate is unclear — ESD has said its preliminary numbers are being re-evaluated at this time and are likely to be inaccurate — but the rate will for sure be less than what it would have been for the previous bond, which would have added $1.56 per $1,000 in assessed value to local property taxes.
Superintendent Dr. Shaun Carey added during the meeting that the district is eligible for state funding for this project, but how much is unknown at this time. He added that ESD is not relying on state funds and promised to be extra accurate about how much might be available to the district — two issues that came up with a 2015 previous bond that continue to rankle locals.
Carey said if the bond passes, any state grant money that the district might receive would be used for additional maintenance projects beyond the scope of the bond.
Passing this new bond is likely to be a steep battle for the district, despite the reduced numbers; the last attempt to pass a bond resulted in 75% of voters rejecting the proposal.
After the measure was defeated, ESD put out a “bond feedback survey” which received more 1,600 responses to help determine its next steps. According Carey, this is not something ESD has historically done after a failed bond.
Unsurprisingly, most people (74%) agreed or strongly agreed that the previous bond measure was too expensive.
However, about 56% of respondents also said they would most likely approve a bond if it funded security and safety upgrades and/or fund various repairs and upgrades around the district.
Additionally, 52% of respondents said they’d approve a bond if it funded a new Byron Kibler Elementary and Birth to Five Center (respondents could pick one or more options).
The fact that only about 34% of respondents said they’d support a new Black Diamond elementary school appears to have convinced the ESD board to drop that project from the bond.
The feedback survey told ESD a lot about what the local community wants from the district, but Carey added that ESD “will move forward with some type of ‘facilities community task force’. We do think that it’s important for us to have members of this community, from both of the cities and unincorporated King County, to be in the room with us, talking about how are we going to address the needs of our kids.”
This is despite the fact that more than 65% of respondents to the feedback survey indicated they were not interested in participating on such a task force. Carey said more information about the task force will be presented during the August board meeting.
CONDITION AND CAPACITY
ESD has been insisting on the need for both a new Enumclaw elementary school and a new Black Diamond elementary school for some time now.
For example, the Byron Kibler Elementary building is 70 years old, and is plagued with leaks that affect classrooms and an antiquated heating system that can leave students freezing or sweltering, no matter the weather outisde.
The J.J. Smith building, which currently houses the Birth To Five Center, is in much of the same condition.
And the current Black Diamond Elementary is close to reaching capacity, thanks to the city’s growth in the Ten Trails neighborhood. According to the district, some students (100 last year, ESD confirmed) are already being bussed from Black Diamond to Westwood Elementary in Enumclaw due to space issues.
Director Lori Metschan, who did vote to put the bond measure on the general election ballot, has previously expressed concern that focusing on only Enumclaw is a mistake, as there’s no incentive for Black Diamond voters to support the bond.
ESD Board President said that, in reading the comments from the feedback survey, that “trust” remains is a big issue with voters.
“They gave us feedback with three key items” — a new Byron Kibler Elementary, safety and security, and maintenance, Gamblin said near the end of the meeting. “I think if we have to build upon trust, we can’t go against what those three things were that they were willing to support.”
CAN YOU RENOVATE THE CURRENT BUILDING? COST AND SAFETY
ESD Board Member Paul Fisher asked Carey if the district has looked at simply renovating an older building instead of building a brand new one.
According to ESD Director of Business Kyle Fletcher, talks with NAC indicate that renovation is generally cheaper than new construction, but there are questions about the structural integrity of ESD’s older buildings.
With that as a consideration, renovation costs “trends much closer to the cost of square footage of new construction,” he continued.
Renovating a building also often means displaced students, as they will need be bussed to other schools during construction. Fletcher said the district might save money on construction by renovating the building, but other costs — like needing to find different learning spaces for students — would increase.
There are also security issues, Carey said; older school designs had a purposeful open layout and are more sprawling, something current school designs shy away from.
“I just makes more sense to minimize the footprint by building up versus building out,” he said. “You can’t create the same amount of safety features… that is spread out over a vast amount of space versus one that is contained in a smaller footprint and you’re controlling how classrooms are situation vertically versus horizontally.”
According to ESD, building a new Byron Kibler Elementary alone will cost roughly $90 million.
That’s more than triple the cost of the Black Diamond Elementary school ESD built back in 2015.
“That price tag no longer exists in terms of building a 450, 500-student building,” Carey said, noting the district has been talking with NAC Architecture, which has built Enumclaw-area schools and others around the county, about construction price changes over the last 15 years. Price escalation, he continued, “has compounded exponentially and it is jaw dropping, how much it costs to build a school nowadays.”
That price does not reflect today’s construction rates, but one in the near future, as it will take time to plan the building and get the appropriate permits.
PROBLEMS OF THE PAST
As mentioned, some ESD voters continue to be distrustful of the district after they passed a 2015 bond by four votes, in a large part because the bond ended up not covering a construction for a new Enumclaw High gym and performing arts center.
Former district officials blamed the issue on being given inaccurate numbers on how much construction would cost and how much state grant money the district would receive, answers some voters were not happy with.
However, Board President Gamblin pointed out none of the current board members, or Superintendent Carey, were involved with that bond or responsible for the debacle.