A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker
Dear Families, Community and Staff,
I’m excited to share with you this recommendation that I received from our 33-member Facilities Planning Task Force, which included student, staff, parent, community and City of Bellingham representatives.
The task force spent many weeks studying our greatest facilities needs in Bellingham Public Schools.
Washington state does not provide enough funding to build, rebuild, repair or improve school facilities, so school districts put bond measures on the ballot that require 60 percent voter approval. This allows us to protect our general fund for teaching and learning purposes.
The task force’s recommendation calls for:
- Rebuilding three of our older elementary schools that are in poor physical condition and will benefit from updated facilities: Alderwood, Parkview and Sunnyland.
- These three schools were also recommended due to their proximity to the growth occurring in north Bellingham, allowing for additional enrollment capacity or “infill” of our existing elementary schools before building a 15th elementary school in a future bond (not part of this bond recommendation).
- Initial conceptual planning indicates that all three of these elementary schools could be rebuilt adjacent to the existing schools, allowing students to continue to attend their schools until the new school opens, similar to how Happy Valley was built and Sehome is being constructed. The recent improvements of a new cafeteria and gym at Parkview would be incorporated and used in the design of the new school.
- Completing the remaining 2013 bond projects: Sehome High School rebuild, District Office seismic safety and renovation; Central Kitchen; and Transportation Garage improvements. The task force learned that since original estimates were developed in 2012 for these projects that are currently in the planning phase, construction costs have escalated and the Sehome project in particular is subject to new storm water, electrical, mechanical and building regulations.
- Improving safety and security at schools: Lockdown shades to eliminate visibility into classrooms and school areas from the exterior when needed; radio communication; PA/intercom for all school areas, including portables; access control for more secured entrances at some schools in need; door locking systems; security cameras for exterior vandalism deterrent and protection; and cameras in some commons interior areas such as hallways (all school offices have cameras from the previous bond).
- Protecting and maintaining our facility investments in our existing schools, similar to homeowners that need to replace building systems including roofs, windows, flooring, heating and ventilation, etc.
- Providing long-term technology infrastructure improvements and reader boards for schools that need them to avoid parent organizations fundraising for this purpose.
- Making facility improvements for the health and wellness of our students and community: The second phase of turf fields for soccer, baseball and softball at Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum high schools; one more tennis court at Bellingham and Squalicum high schools so all three comprehensive high schools have six tennis courts; improving drainage and the usability of some elementary school fields so parent organizations don’t have to fundraise for this purpose; and additional gym space at Shuksan Middle School.
The task force carefully weighed the financial impact of all of these recommendations on our residential and business property owners. Our school district has more facility needs than those mentioned above. However, this recommendation meets many of the greatest needs while not increasing the combined total schools tax rate for property owners living within Bellingham Public Schools’ attendance areas. The approximate total cost of the recommendation is for a $155 million bond measure to put before voters in February 2018; this would keep the total schools tax rate at approximately $4.81 cents per $1,000 assessed property value. This is a lower tax rate from $4.86 that we were projecting at the time of the last levy in fall 2016. We are able to fund all of the recommended facility projects while not increasing the tax rate because our two-year school bus levy is expiring and we will also be retiring some debt.
I want to express my sincerest appreciation to the task force for this thoughtful recommendation and look forward to sharing more information with our community about these recommended projects next school year.
I’m also interested in your thoughts or questions regarding this recommendation. Please blog with me.