Bellingham Public Schools

Facilities Update and Next Steps


Dear Families and Community,

I recently received a recommendation from the Facilities Planning Task Force, and wanted to share with you some initial thoughts and next steps.

I greatly appreciate the many months of hard work this group of more than 35 representatives, including students, parents, staff and community members, dedicated to this process. Led by community co-chairs Jim and Linden Darling, the Task Force toured our buildings, reviewed a significant amount of data and information, shared ideas, and gathered public input throughout this fall and winter before recommending our greatest facility needs for the next 10 years. Task Force members represented schools and neighborhoods throughout our community and while they each brought their own perspective to the process, they intentionally looked out for all district children and our future generations. 

If you haven’t had the opportunity yet to review their recommendation, this brochure provides a summary or the complete recommendation is also posted online. I’ve also appreciated the openness and transparency of this Task Force, which has kept us all informed throughout their work by posting data, information, meeting minutes and more online, as well as sharing regular updates in multiple ways. I value the Task Force’s thoughtful assessment of our facility priorities and recognize that there are still many unanswered questions that need to be addressed.

Next Steps

The Task Force’s recommendation acknowledges that while we have several new or recently upgraded school facilities in Bellingham, we also have numerous needs. Addressing these needs is critical so that we can deliver on The Bellingham Promise by providing high quality education to serve the whole child.

Facilities planning is complex, especially given the magnitude of needs. I strongly believe that for complex issues – when there isn’t a single, obvious answer – using multiple perspectives can help us get to the best possible solution and positive outcomes for kids.

Adding to the complexity is how school facilities are funded. Facilities are paid for separately from our day-to-day operations for teaching and learning, typically through a bond approved by voters in a local election. This requires that we package our greatest facility priorities into a bond that is voted on by those living within school district attendance areas. As the Task Force stated in its recommendation, many issues still need attention and I have added others that also need to be addressed. During the next few months, I plan to work with staff to:

  • Explore the best bond financing options to minimize the local property tax impact;
  • Further research the benefits and costs of locating a centralized kitchen in a new Sehome High School to prepare higher quality, more made-from-scratch meals for all 22 schools;
  • Explore the potential for a district culinary arts program and/or other career and technical education programs located at Sehome that require specialized construction;
  • Plan the location of some facilities such as the Learning Support Center/District Office and Options/Innovations High School;
  • Continue to engage Larrabee Elementary School families, community and staff in the recommendation to retire Larrabee from use as a school;
  • Work closely with Larrabee, Lowell and Happy Valley school communities and the neighborhood association regarding the recommendation to build a new elementary at Happy Valley and upgrade Lowell;
  • Engage Parkview Elementary School families and staff regarding the recommendation to improve Parkview;
  • Plan for the reopening of Birchwood Elementary School in fall 2014;
  • Engage students, staff, families and community in building a vision related to Options/Innovations High School;
  • Determine the extent of the rebuild of the transportation facility;
  • Conduct more planning for phases 1 and 2 of adding synthetic turf athletic fields at our high schools;
  • Consider future facility needs for our conservation site on Lake Whatcom;
  • Further explore the extent and possible timeline for completing work at Sunnyland, Carl Cozier and Columbia elementary schools; and
  • Further research the safety upgrades and costs needed for all schools

In the spirit of continuing this open, collaborative and transparent process of facilities planning for the next 10 years, our staff will conduct this work over the next few months with a goal of developing the top priorities for a bond prior to the end of this school year in preparation for a November election.

In addition, Larrabee Elementary School families and staff have requested that we work closely with them to provide answers as soon as possible regarding if and when Larrabee might be retired from use as an elementary school. (Read more about the Task Force’s recommendation and rationale regarding southside elementary schools.) Therefore, we will focus on this next by continuing to meet and work closely with the Larrabee, Lowell and Happy Valley community during March with a goal of reaching a solution in early spring.

I will continue to keep you informed throughout our planning process. Again, I express my greatest appreciation for the thoughtful work of those who volunteered so many hours on the Facilities Planning Task Force. In addition to instruction, school climate and leadership, the physical learning environments and spaces we provide for children and staff have a significant impact on our desired outcomes for students and graduates. We want to build upon our track record of working very closely with our school and neighborhood communities to give all children opportunities to learn in environments as we have done with Bellingham, Squalicum, Shuksan, Whatcom, Northern Heights, Wade King, Cordata and most recently, with the Birchwood neighborhood. The possibilities to support teaching and learning by improving facilities for our community are both challenging and exciting when we think about the next 10 years and our collective work to build a facilities plan that benefits many generations beyond.

Sincerely,

Greg Baker