More than a year ago, islanders passed a nearly $10 million bond for capital improvements at the school district, and this summer much of the work is underway, slated to be completed on time and on budget, according to capital projects management consultant Brandy Fox.
Last week, Fox provided a tour of the facilities and work in progress at all three schools. The largest of the projects is the installation of the artificial turf field and rubberized track at Vashon High School, but there is a lot of activity at each of the schools, including new windows and renovated locker rooms at McMurray and new paint — and a new look — at Chautauqua, along with moveable batting cages installed in the covered play area there.
Fox, who works solely with schools and has her own firm called Construction Planning & Management in Seattle, said she believes the district has accomplished a lot with the money it spent, and while there is work that could still be done, everybody has gotten something.
“We have done a great job of stretching tax payer dollars a long, long way,” she said.
Last Thursday, several workers were at the track, where the focus has been to get the field portion ready for the installation of the pad and turf. There, Fox stated that it is a challenge to build on Vashon, because workers must use what is on the island or bring what they need over on the ferry. For the track and field’s drainage, contractors used pea gravel from the island — not the first choice for such a project — and then made additional adaptations for it to be effective, in what Fox called “an engineering marvel.” Had they imported the desired rock from the mainland, Fox said, it would have required 300 dump truck loads, adding considerable expense and more trucks to the ferries during the summer of paving.
Those who have played on the old field know that it was not flat. The new one has a slight crown in the center for drainage purposes but the the slope must not exceed one-quarter inch over 10 feet, according to Kyle Behla, who is overseeing this portion of the project.
“Any deviation from that is not acceptable,” he said.
He added that this project has been a challenge, and that he typically does not let anyone walk on a field at this stage — but big equipment is on it, creating lateral drains, part of the “engineering marvel” that Fox mentioned.
Although Fox does not live on Vashon, she expressed excitement about the new track and field.
“It is going to be a transformation of the athletic facilities for the island. It is a wonderful asset for the community,” she said. “You will be able to play seven days a week until 10 p.m. here.”
The track and field is expected to be completed before the first home football game, Sept. 14.
Nearby at McMurray, the locker rooms have been gutted. Fox referred to them as “40 years of bad,” and the renovation work is progressing. Island contractor Cory McIntrye is doing that project. Fox said she was pleased to have islanders doing some of the work that is underway. She noted McIntrye is the wrestling coach at McMurray.
“He is fully invested in how (the locker rooms) turn out,” she added.
Other work at McMurray includes installation of new bleachers, to replace the old portable set that were previously brought in and out of the gym, and replacement of all the windows. New furniture is also in the works for the middle school and has been delivered.
After the high school’s new track and field, the other most visible changes are underway at Chautauqua, where islander Clay Eastly and crew are painting the outside of the school. The school needed to be painted for maintenance reasons, Fox said, and a new color scheme was chosen that she said will freshen up the look of the school. The main color is a light gray that changes in the light and appeared off-white last week. There will be sage green accents and dark green trim.
Eastly, who is the high school football coach, has previously done some bond-related painting at the schools. Fox praised his work — and noted his island roots.
“When I saw the Pirate tattoo on Clay’s leg, I knew he was the perfect person to paint the gym,” she added.
Inside at Chautuaqua, students and teachers have received new furniture: tables, desks and chairs. Much of the old furniture was 40 years old, Fox said.
Outside, under the covered play area, retractable batting cages have been installed. They are tucked up close to the structure’s ceiling, but can be lowered for use and nets placed on their frames. New, standalone batting cages would have cost between $300,000 to $400,000, but this option was just $25,000, Fox said.
The school district’s K Building, home to both StudentLink and FamilyLink, is also undergoing a thorough makeover this summer, with new offices, a study hall and restrooms under construction and new furnaces to be installed.
Many organizations that have undertaken substantial construction projects on Vashon have noted that work on the island is more costly than work on the mainland. For the school district project’s, Fox noted some of the contractors have chosen to stay on Vashon for much of the summer. She said she budgeted an additional 10 percent for the “island factor” — but that was not enough.
“I think it’s more,” she said. “I don’t know if it is 20 percent, but it is not 10.”
For now, though, the focus is on getting the work done for most of the projects by the time school starts, Sept. 4, and shortly thereafter for the track and field. That project, long desired by many in the sports community, is expected to open with a ribbon-cutting celebration.