Move to Chautauqua could save district much-needed funds

In an effort to save tens of thousands of dollars, the Vashon Island School District board of directors voted last week to relocate the district’s offices from their current location — in the J.T. Sheffield Building on 103rd Avenue S.W. behind Sawbones — into three empty classrooms on the first floor of Chautauqua Elementary School.

The Vashon Island School district offices, housing the superintendent and eight other district employees, will move in as soon as their new office furniture arrives, hopefully before school begins in September.

The school district pays about $54,000 a year in rent and auxiliary fees such as utilities and taxes to occupy the Sheffield Building, said Superintendent Terry Lindquist. The entirety of that amount comes out of the district’s general fund — the part of the budget allocated for the district’s operations, including teachers’ salaries, textbooks and utilities.

“We are in a situation where we need to relieve the general fund as much as we can,” he said. “That’s really the only reason we’re making the move. If we could find a way to absorb this cost in our general fund and make it work, we probably would have stayed.”

The school board approved a one-time cost of $115,000 to move the district’s offices to Chautau-qua, coming from the district’s capital projects’ fund. This includes $60,000 for the purchase and shipping of all new furniture and dividers to break up the school’s classrooms into multiple offices. Rent at the Sheffield Building included furniture, which the district will have to leave behind. That amount will also cover whatever updating needs to be done in the Chautauqua classrooms, such as adding more telephone jacks in the classrooms and electrical updating.

Lindquist said he hoped the work could be done in less than $100,000.

The capital projects fund is for buildings, furniture, maintenance and equipment only, so spending money from it on the move made sense, Lindquist said.

After the one-time expense, he said the monthly cost of having district offices in the elementary school should be “insignificant.”

“I can’t see why there would be any additional cost, because we would have been already maintaining those classrooms anyway,” he said.

The district will have many ways to spend the $54,000 saved each year, he said.

“We have so many needs,” Lindquist said ; staffing and maintenance, to name a few. Paying rent at Sheffield was the equivalent of one less staff member for the district, he said.

“We knew we had an immediate option to locate the offices into space that already exists on the campus,” said Bob Hennessey, school board chair. “It seemed to be pretty logical.”

He said he’s glad money will be saved from the general fund and can now be applied “to teaching kids instead of rent.”

However, he acknowledged that it won’t be “optimal” to house the central offices of the district in the bottom floor of the elementary school.

“We’re taking buildings that were constructed as classroom space and making them do the work to serve as office space,” Hennessey said. “From a functional standpoint, the Sheffield Building offered a lot of benefits. We had conference rooms and rooms that were constructed to serve as office space.”

Tom Bangasser, manager of the Sheffield Building, said the building was outfitted with top-of-the-line technology three years ago, before the school district, Vashon College and other tenants moved in.

As part of its rent, the school district has access to common areas of the building such as a conference room across the hall from its offices, which Bangasser said district staff used at least once a week.

“It’s probably one of the most sophisticated rooms on the Island,” he said. “People are amazed at the technology that’s in there ... Effectively, it’s the conference room of the future.”

The school district had the opportunity in 2003 to purchase the Sheffield Building if it could pay off the building’s mortgage, about $300,000, but opted not to. The district offices were then located at the corner of S.W. 204th Street and Vashon Highway S.W., but district officials found out that winter that the offices were uninhabitable because of a serious mold problem.

The district found out just prior about a similar problem at the brand-new Chautauqua Elementary School, and what resulted was a complicated and inconvenient shuffle, said former school board member Susan Lofland, who was elected in November 2003.

“They moved that same summer — 2004,” she said. “Chautauqua offices had to move to McMurray, and the district offices had to move to Sheffield. ... It was just a mess until finally we got that solution to move to the Sheffield Building, which was originally thought to be a short-term solution. We always envisioned that to be a short-term thing.”

The school district’s offices ended up remaining in the Sheffield Building for four years, although board members were often considering other options.

And until the end, Bangasser attempted to keep one of his most valued clients at the building, offering to let the school district stay in the building rent-free, but still paying significant “central area maintenance” charges that amount to $33,000 a year.

“Our mission is lifelong learning on Vashon,” he said. “We’ve been in a place to help them in the past, and if we can help them in the future, we’d like to do that too.”

Lindquist said Bangasser made a “generous offer.” But, he added, it just “wasn’t enough to make a difference.”

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