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Facilities update, Jan. 2019: Sehome High School, district office

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, families and community members,

We have some exciting news to share related to facilities projects, which are made possible thanks to generous voter support of our bonds in 2013 and 2018.

Sehome High School

New sehome entranceWe opened the doors of the new Sehome High School to staff and students today! We are thrilled to open the new school seven months ahead of schedule. Originally, the current senior class thought they would never attend the new school; now they get to be the first graduating class from the new Sehome. All are welcome to attend an official ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour the new school at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 1 in the new Sehome commons. This is an exciting milestone for our Sehome and extended Mariner community. The new synthetic turf baseball field was completed in November, the gym wing opened on Jan. 2, and the rest of the Sehome site (including parking lots and other turf fields) will be done by fall 2019. You can see photos of our progress here or watch our work zone web cam.

District Office

District Office exterior

Renovating our district office was part of our facilities bond in 2013, and we have been waiting to turn our attention to this project until our 2013 school projects were complete. Our thinking at the time was to rebuild on our current site at 1306 Dupont Street. The district office, formerly Roeder Elementary School, was built in 1908. At 111 years old, it is the oldest facility in our district. Problems at the district office include major structural deficiencies, all building systems (electrical, heating and ventilation, plumbing) are at the end of their useful life, technological disadvantages, limited ADA accessibility, inadequate meeting space and basement flooding. The building does not meet any current building codes. There is limited parking, which can be frustrating for visitors, families and neighbors who receive the overflow of cars when we have large meetings or staff trainings, which occur almost daily. In addition, remodeling would require us to temporarily move during construction and incur rent/leasing expenses for 18-24 months.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked with community partners to evaluate other sites instead of improving our current building. We believe we have an idea that is worthy of serious consideration: move the district office to the Barkley district. The Barkley Company released plans to build a new office building last year (note: we would purchase the plot of land and design/build a district office; not construct the building shown in the conceptual architectural sketch in the link). The site on Barkley Boulevard offers ample parking, room for future expansion if needed, and the possibility to bring local partners/services for families, including an early childhood component. It’s on a bus line, near a trail, provides amenities for staff and visitors (grocery, medical, retail, etc.) and is centrally-located within our school district boundaries. One of the key advantages is that we could most likely save over a million dollars by moving to Barkley vs. remodeling our current site on Dupont Street due to avoiding relocation costs and the unknown costs associated with renovation. Even with comprehensive analysis and best estimates, we know that remodeling an 111-year-old building comes with many unknowns and that building new can often be less impactful, less expensive and results in a better end product. If we moved, we would intend to sell our Dupont Street property. For anyone wondering about funding and budget constraints: bond dollars can only be used for capital projects, including rebuilds and improvements to schools, district facilities, fields and other infrastructure and cannot be used to help with general fund budget challenges we might be facing in the coming months.

I have shared the Barkley proposal with a number of groups, including the Parent Advisory Committee, district office staff, school board and our leadership team. I’ve heard overwhelmingly that they favor the Barkley site for the reasons mentioned above, and most notably, for the financial savings and to better serve our community. We also heard them say that the district has a great track record of putting our kids and schools first, and our district office is an important part of Bellingham Public Schools. The space houses staff who provide key services for our community, students, staff and families, and it’s an important gathering place for staff and community meetings, professional development and trainings.

Before making a formal decision, we’d like to hear from you. Send your comments and questions via email to me, call the Department of Capital Projects and School Facilities at 360-676-6531 or attend a meeting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12 at the district office. We look forward to hearing your input, and we appreciate your help in making the most prudent choice. If you have ideas for other uses for our current office at 1306 Dupont Street, please send them to Ron Cowan at Ron.Cowan@bellinghamschools.org or call the Department of Capital Projects and School Facilities at 360-676-6531.

Other Projects

You can see updates on all other capital projects here, including our plans for a new auxiliary gym at Shuksan Middle School. This spring we will begin renovation of our current transportation garage, which is over 60 years old. The project involves interior improvements to an existing building to provide for improved service bays, vehicle hoists, fluid and air distribution, parts and tool storage, restrooms, break room, heating and ventilation systems, electrical systems and building envelope (windows, roof, etc.). We will also be upgrading oil/water separators that connect to the sanitary sewer, not the storm sewer, to ensure nothing makes its way into the nearby creek. Planning continues for the replacement of Alderwood, Parkview and Sunnyland elementary schools. We anticipate those projects to be complete no later than fall 2022. Design work is underway for phase two of our turf field projects at Bellingham and Squalicum high schools, including soccer, baseball and softball fields, all which will be completed no later than fall 2020.

I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks as always for your continued support.

Greg Baker