For the fourth time in 10 years, Vashon’s school district is bringing a bond to voters in an attempt to secure the funding necessary to replace the high school’s track and field. But the $9.9 million bond also includes another $5 million to fix windows, carpets and locker rooms at McMurray Middle School and update the district’s maintenance facility and Building K — some of the district’s oldest buildings.
During a tour last Friday of the facilities to be repaired if the bond passes, a Beachcomber reporter saw the windows at McMurray Middle School that fall out of their frames into the classroom and need to be held up with heavy items nearby. McMurray social studies teacher Larry Dubois demonstrated his technique of keeping the windows open and joked that the dictionaries in the shelves under the window are dual purpose.
“They can tell you what a word means, but also allow you to get a breeze,” he said before pointing out the duct tape on the classroom floor that was holding the frayed edges of the carpet down.
In the middle school locker rooms, the mid-1960s lockers in the boys’ room are rusted and the sides are covered with plywood. Communal showers, most of which have broken shower heads, stand behind a low wall. Vashon Island School District Superintendent Michael Soltman calls them “gang showers” and says they “aren’t kosher anymore,” due to privacy concerns and recent sensitivities over students who identify as neither male nor female. In the girls’ locker room, the communal showers have been covered up for years, and the space is used as storage while more private shower stalls have been installed.
“For girls, they won’t even shower in gang showers, so this has become storage,” Soltman said.
A total of $996,000 of the bond funds is slated to go to projects at McMurray, with locker room upgrades and flooring accounting for more than half of the total at $345,000 each.
Soltman explained that projects above the $120,000 to $150,000 range cannot be paid for out of the district’s cap/tech levy. Those levy funds were used to replace McMurray’s roof and hard floor coverings.
Meanwhile, near the high school, the school district’s maintenance personnel and equipment is housed in a 1920s wood building that used to be a kindergarten. It later became an administration building, but was so rat infested it was deemed unfit for human occupation, Soltman said. Much rat poison later, it became the maintenance building, but is far from weatherproof. The district has decided to construct a new building — the smallest option necessary, a 3,500 square-foot metal fabricated building — for the cost of $2.2 million. Facilities and maintenance staff and tools will be moved there and the current maintenance building will become storage. Currently, theater props, records and surplus equipment are stored in shipping containers in the district’s gravel lot near the pool.
“Everything rots,” Soltman said.
Asked about the seemingly high price of the new, small maintenance building, longtime school board member Bob Hennessey said that he “pushed very hard multiple times” to get the price down to no avail.
“It just costs a lot of money to build a new building in the public sector,” he said explaining that because the district is a public entity, it must pay workers prevailing wage, along with a slew of other requirements that don’t apply to private construction projects.
Just across the lot from those containers, Building K, which houses the district’s alternative learning programs StudentLink and FamilyLink, sits. The building was built in the 1970s and Soltman said “there has been no upgrades whatsoever on the building.
Single pane windows, a confusing floor plan that is a maze of doors and hallways and a bathroom that contains two toilets right next to each other with no divider are among the smaller issues when thrown into a bucket of repairs that also include a failing HVAC system thanks to the building’s four boilers all about to fail. The bond plan sets aside $495,000 for repairs here.
“We have to do as much as we can with that roughly $500,000,” Soltman said.
Julie Hanger, the program director for both the StudentLink and FamilyLink programs seconded Soltman’s statements and said that the building has been reworked multiple times to fit different uses and now is “not working very well,” especially when it comes to the location of bathrooms.
“The bathroom configurations are odd,” she said. “The younger students have classes furthest away from bathroom, so they need to be escorted up to bathrooms by going outside. That’s a little awkward.”
She also mentioned the failing boilers and the fact that it gets cold in the winter, but the electrical system can only handle one space heater.
“The building needs attention, major attention,” she said. “And I’m not even talking about paint or floors, just reconfiguration and infrastructure: making the space more usable.
The single largest project proposed in the bond is the replacement of Vashon High School’s (VHS) track and field with a rubberized track and all-weather turf field. For the VHS track team, the $5 million project would mean the ability to host home meets for the first time in years. For the community, it would mean a better track for islanders to run on and a field that could keep up with the high traffic of community soccer and lacrosse teams. Currently, both the track and the field flood in the winter and make the facilities nearly unusable.
An all-weather turf field also has the ability to save money and water as VISD currently uses up to 1 million gallons per year on the high school field alone.
Ballots for the special election are being sent out today, Wednesday, and need to be returned by April 25.
VISD Superintendent Michael Soltman has said that if voters approve the bond it would raise property taxes by, at most, $5 per month for a $500,000 home. However, he noted the debt may be able to be structured in such a way as to not affect property tax rates.