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Islanders tour high school’s aging gym, ask tough questions

Donna Klemka asks a question of Eric Gill, Vashon Island School District’s capital projects manager, during a tour of the boys’ locker room, while board chair Bob Hennessey listens. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
Donna Klemka asks a question of Eric Gill, Vashon Island School District’s capital projects manager, during a tour of the boys’ locker room, while board chair Bob Hennessey listens.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

A couple dozen Islanders toured Vashon High School’s gym last week, where they saw lockers that no longer open, sinks that have no hot water and a boiler that frequently floods.

“These are 46 years old; half of them don’t work,” said physical education teacher Becky Shigley, pointing to the orange lockers in the boys’ locker room.

“When you run out of money, the first place you cut is the gym,” she added.

The tour was part of an effort by the Vashon Island school board to show voters what the district is up against and to garner their input on a bond measure that will likely come before voters next February.

The board is considering a proposal that would cover the costs of a new classroom building and the renovation of some current structures. But district officials are also grappling with how extensively to renovate the high school’s aging gym, a facility that has gotten little attention since it was built nearly 50 years ago.

“Tonight and over the next week or so, we’re going to decide what goes into the project, and you’re going to help us figure that out,” Superintendent Michael Soltman told the small group of Islanders.

In the question-and-answer period that followed the tour, Islanders pressed the board about why the structure isn’t better maintained and how long a renovated gym would last before it fell into disrepair.

“Maintenance is an ongoing issue, but I’m not sure that’s an issue with the gym,” board member Laura Wishik answered.

“This is a 50-year-old building. ... It’s really served its purpose well,” added John “Oz” Osborne.

Others said they didn’t endorse the bond measure that came before voters in March because they were troubled they were being asked to pay to construct a school big enough to accommodate off-Island students.

“It didn’t rub right,” said Islander Neil Jellison. “We should build a school for the size of our student population.”

But Wishik told him that the incremental costs of accommodating off-Island students is minimal. “Most of the costs are fixed,” she said.

After the gathering, board chair Bob Hennessey said he thought it was helpful for people — including board members — to see the gym’s condition. But he was disappointed more Islanders didn’t turn out.

“I wish everybody on the Island could see with their own eyes what our kids are having to use day in and day out,” he said.

He said he hopes the board will vote on a final proposal by mid-October.

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