School board readies measure for voter input

Vashon school district officials plan to ask for community input on a proposed bond measure that would likely weigh in at around $50 million — $25 million less than the proposal that failed at the ballot box earlier this year.

The measure, to be vetted at a public meeting Sept. 17, would address many of Vashon High School’s classroom needs. It would lead to the construction of a new 40,000-square-foot classroom building, for instance, as well as far-reaching renovations to Building A, currently the main structure at the school.

But it would not include many of the track and field improvements the district had previously sought, nor would it call for the construction of a second gym. And school district officials would remain in hastily configured offices at Chautauqua Elementary School, rather than claiming renovated space in a 1940s-era brick building on the high school campus, said school board Chair Bob Hennessey.

“It’s a work-around,” Hennessey said of the district offices. “But I think we need to show the voters that we’re sharpening our pencils. This is one way that we can have something that’s less than ideal but good enough.”

One vexing issue, however, remains before the board: the state of the high school’s nearly 50-year-old gym, a building many district officials say is wholly inadequate.

None of its mechanical systems have been updated over the decades — and thus the district has struggled with broken boilers and poor air circulation. It also is not accessible to people in wheelchairs, does not have locker rooms for visiting teams and is, generally, in disrepair.

The board is now considering three potential approaches, with price tags that span the spectrum:

For $1.2 million, the district would repair only the gym’s air-handling system, addressing one of the biggest complaints athletes and spectators voice.

Or, for close to $10 million, the gym’s interior would be essentially rebuilt — an overhaul that would include new mechanical systems, improvements to the bathrooms and upgrades to

the locker rooms. The structure would also be made accessible under this scenario.

A third plan calls for a complete overhaul as well as the construction of new locker rooms for visiting teams — an option that would bring the project’s cost to $11 million, Hennessey said.

According to its latest figures, the district could construct a new classroom building, renovate Building A and provide some significant site improvements to the high school campus for around $42.5 million. A fully renovated gym brings the costs of the measure to $52.4 million.

Board members hope to reach a consensus on the measure soon — and to that end, they’re holding a public meeting Sept. 17 to seek voter input on the question of the gym. They’re especially interested in hearing from people who voted against the $75.5 million proposal in March, when it failed 51 to 49 percent. (It needed a 60 percent supermajority to pass.)

“Maybe spending $10 million isn’t so bad. Or maybe it’s crazy. I don’t know what (voters) will say. But I want to hear from them,” said Laura Wishik, the board’s vice-chair.

“There are some people who say, ‘No matter what it costs, we need to do this,’” she noted. “But I want to hear from folks who try to balance the issues of cost and need and are thoughtful about it.”

Board members have been surprised by the costs of the gym’s remodel, Hennessey and Wishik noted, a figure that initially seemed high to them.

But according to Eric Gill, the district’s capital projects manager, a project like a gym rebuild carries a number of costs most people don’t consider — such as the contractor’s need for a performance bond and risk insurance, contingency costs, several code-related items and moving and relocation costs.

The district had its architects look into the cost of razing the current structure and constructing a new gym, a price tag that was higher, Gill said.

“I’m appalled by the costs on one level,” said Wishik. “It’s almost $11 million for an old gym. At the same time, I recognize that buildings have to be renovated on occasion. And if that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Hennessey supports an overhaul of the gym, saying that to do less is to foist the issue on another set of board members. “Past board members have done that to me, and I know what it feels like,” he said.

He also said he’d like the new proposal to contain one item from the menu of track and field improvements in the previous bond measure: a new track at the high school. “I want to at least put it on the table,” he said.

Because of drainage and other problems with the current track, the high school can’t host track meets; the track does not meet the Nisqually Division’s standards.

But Hennessey added that it’s important for the board to reach a consensus on the measure before putting it before voters — something the previous measure lacked — and said he hoped a public meeting would help the board find common ground.

“We have five board members — five very strong and opinionated people,” he said. “And getting five people to agree on anything is difficult. But I think we have to reach a consensus and get this thing before the voters sooner rather than later — because every month we wait, it costs the voters more money.”

Share your thoughts

The school board wants community feedback on its proposed bond measure to renovate the high school, particularly about current cost estimates, bond timing and the scope of the gym remodel. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at the McMurray Middle School library.

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