Schools narrow options for next bond measure

Rob Kearns remembers shooting hoops at the Vashon High School gym when he was a kid. Standing in the same gym last week, Kearns, who is now 46 and a basketball coach, said he thinks it’s past time for a new one.

Girls’ basketball coach Rob Kearns talks to players during a practice last week. He hopes the 50-year-old gym they play in will soon be upgraded.

Rob Kearns remembers shooting hoops at the Vashon High School gym when he was a kid. Standing in the same gym last week, Kearns, who is now 46 and a basketball coach, said he thinks it’s past time for a new one.

“These facilities are bad. They really are,” he said during a high school girls’ basketball practice.

Not only is the gym more than 50 years old, but the basketball court is overbooked with teams and is shorter than a typical court. The girls’ locker room in the basement is cold, smelly and “dungeony,” Kearns said, and leaks when it rains. And an overall lack of locker space forces visiting teams to use the locker rooms of opposite genders, which can be hard to manage.

“It’s a mess, to say the least,” he said.

It’s a situation the Vashon School District hopes taxpayers will address. With the new high school recently completed, Vashon’s school board is moving forward on planning for additional improvements at the district’s campus.

School officials learned last week that a list of desired upgrades — including a new high school gym, new educational buildings and a new track, field and bleachers — could total between $25 and $36 million. The bond for the high school building, which passed in  2011, was about $48 million.

Board members at a Thursday meeting where the numbers were presented had little discussion about the figures, which architects called high-level estimates. But in interviews, Superintendent Michael Soltman and two board members said the district might ultimately decide to prioritize upgrades and choose only some capital projects to put before voters as a bond next February.

“I think that’s exactly the question before the board,” said chair Laura Wishik. “Are we going to cut this up into smaller phases, and if so, are we going to not do some of it? All of those questions are on the table.”

The school district first asked voters to fund upgrades to its aging athletic facilities in 2009, when a $75.5 million bond for a far-reaching rebuild of the high school and athletic facilities failed at the polls. In 2011, a $3.5 million measure that would have replaced just the track and field also failed, while voters narrowly passed an accompanying $47.7 million bond to renovate the high school.

Last winter, school officials began planning to address all the remaining campus needs — which the district has dubbed Phase 2 — with a new high school gym and new track and field identified early on as top priorities.

“Just because they were not supported the last time doesn’t mean the need went away,” said commissioner Bob Hennessey, who was also part of a Phase 2 planning committee.

Integrus Architecture, the company that designed the new high school, was hired to assess the district’s older facilities and determine what is needed to meet the needs of students, staff and sports teams. With a $38,000 contract, Integrus created a draft master plan for Phase 2, estimating the costs of various capital projects.

For instance, building a new gym facility could cost between $11.8 million and $17.5 million, according to Integrus. Options presented on Thursday included building a new gym and renovating the old one for either additional gym space or storage, or building a new two-court gym and completely demolishing the existing gym. Another option called for a smaller auxiliary gym to be built in addition to a new main gym.

The high school’s outdated track and football field have also been a focus of concern in recent years, with the track in such bad shape that VHS cannot hold home track meets.

According to Integrus, a new track and field, grandstand with restrooms and new tennis courts could cost between $6.8 and $8.9 million.

Other proposals included building new facilities for the district’s preschool and FamilyLink programs, renovating another building for StudentLink or other academic programs and building a new greenhouse, projects that could total $4.8 million, according to Integrus.

During planning, a new bus barn and storage space were also identified as top needs, and Integrus estimated those projects could cost between $1.4 million and $6.6 million.

Integrus priced several packages of projects that the district might pursue, estimating four options ranging from $24.7 million to $35.9 million. In the coming months, the school board will consider what it will ask voters to fund. A final vote on the bond package will come in October or November for inclusion on the February 2016 ballot.

Both Wishik and Hennessey said it is unlikely the district will ask islanders to cover all of the proposed upgrades with one large bond, with Hennessey saying he would prefer a “thoughtful à la cart,” saving other items for future bonds or levies.

“Over the next two or three decades, I would expect all these projects to have to go forward in some way,” he said.

Soltman, too, said a February bond might not include everything in the master plan. The district has identified some other needed renovations, such as the locker rooms and restrooms at McMurray, and officials are getting estimates for those projects as well.

“If we don’t do the whole thing now, I would want to know what the commitment is of when we will do it,” Soltman said.

Dan Chasan, a board member who was also on the Phase 2 planning committee, told The Beachcomber in January that he hoped to keep the next bond under $10 million. He declined to comment on Integrus’ recent estimates before discussing them at the next board meeting, set for July 9.

Integrus’ plan was crafted based on input from school officials as well as meetings with school coaches and community sports groups that use the school facilities. The district has not yet sought public comment on the proposed projects or bond.

Wishik said the board might choose to get public feedback before it moves forward, though she noted that summer is a difficult time to hold public meetings. Soltman said he thought public meetings might begin as soon as August, though no dates are set.

“One of the things the board needs to consider is … do we need to have a more broad section of the community give us feedback,” Wishik said.

Hennessey, too, said he hopes to get more public input before the board makes any major decisions, as the public will be deciding on the bond.

“I would support us doing fairly aggressive community involvement,” he said.

Though the last bond for a track and field failed, officials have said they are hopeful about the next proposal, noting the last bond garnered over half the vote but not the 60 percent needed to pass.

The successful completion of the high school, Soltman added, may have inspired voter confidence.

“I think that what’s important for us to do is be really clear with the community and make the case for why,” he said.

Wishik said she thinks a proposal that includes not only new sports facilities, but space for alternative physical activities as well as academic buildings will find support among voters.

“This is much bigger and much broader than (athletics),” she said. “I think the voters will understand we’re not just talking about sports, but physical activity and a whole range of things.”

 

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