On April 24, Peninsula-area voters will be asked to pass a $220 million capital facilities bond to rebuild, modernize or otherwise upgrade local schools.
According to school district superintendent Rob Manahan, the bond request is the result of a nearly year-long process that included meetings with more than 100 community members.
“We met in locations throughout the district. We talked about growth and legislative mandates. We made on-site visits to every school to see what is needed,” Manahan said.
The citizens talked about differences in learning styles, new curriculum standards, the increasing need for enrichment and social services and increased professional development needs.
They also studied state requirements such as all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes. And they saw first hand the urgent facility needs many local schools have.
As a result of those meetings and fieldtrips, the Facilities Planning Committee, as the group was called, determined that the total amount needed to improve local schools is in the range of $700 million to $750 million.
The $220 million bond package is “just a start,” Manahan said.
“We really need to upgrade every school and get caught up with all the preventative maintenance that needs to happen.”
Nearly every school needs more space and better daylighting and outdoor connections, according to findings listed on the PSD website.
They also need upgrades to safety features such as fire alarms and sprinklers and need to comply with ADA standards. Several need new roofs. Some need to be completely rebuilt.
After still more meetings, the school goard narrowed down the list of immediate needs to those that account for growth, safety and accessibility and to creating and maintaining inspiring environments in every school.
Safety is a big issue, said Jennifer Butler, an architect who specializes in schools and co-chairs the Stand Up for Schools citizens’ group. “All of our schools need to be brought up to code for fire alarms and fire sprinklers.”
In addition, many schools have outdated heating systems and roof problems. “It would be nice to have actual, continuous roofs on our schools,” added SUP participant Byron O’Neal. “Several schools have roofs that leak and that can do a lot of damage. We’ve deferred routine maintenance for far too long.”
Things are especially bad in schools in rural areas such as the Key Peninsula, Butler said, because they have wells and septic systems that need to be upgraded.
Key Peninsula Middle School, for instance, has lost water several times. As systems age, they can be fixed bit by bit, but now KPMS needs a “wholesale replacement” of its water system, she added.
The bond will cover those needs and also will address the need for more classroom space.
Currently, 25 percent of elementary school instruction is done in portables, Butler said. “But the state mandate has capped the number of K-3 students at 17 students per teacher. Right now the average is 20-25 students.”
The District estimates that 22 new classrooms are needed immediately, she added.
The fallout from overcrowding is significant, because classrooms that were used for STEAM classes are now used for core instruction, “so our science teachers and art teachers and other STEAM teachers have to wheel their teaching materials around in carts. They’re doing a wonderful job, but they really need to have permanent space where they can teach those subjects,” she said.
Although specific details of the bond have yet to be worked out, several projects are on the “must do” list.
Those include building a new elementary school, completely rebuilding Artondale and rebuilding a significant portion of Peninsula High School including replacing the roof. In addition, KPMS needs to be fully modernized and upgraded, including improvements to the science room.
All schools in the district will have HVAC upgrades and upgrades to fire alarms and fire protection systems, and Kopachuck and Gig Harbor High School will also have complete roof replacements.
Other projects on the primary project list include improvements at Discovery, Elementary and Kopachuck and science and theater upgrades at GHHS.
“All this is just Phase One,” O’Neal said. “But it give us a start.”
Manahan acknowledged that “$220 million is a big number, but we’re the lowest taxed district in Pierce County and the second lowest in the state for comparable assessed value.”
At this point, specific details such as project schedules and bond costs are still being worked out, Manahan said, but by Feb. 15, the numbers will be crunched and details will be shared with the public in time for the April vote.
Meanwhile, O’Neal and his Stand Up for Schools allies are working hard to make sure that voters have a thorough understanding of the bond issue. “We realize that in the last bond vote there were some real issues about clarity so we know how important it is to rebuild trust and to educate people so they know what’s really going on and what the money will be used for.”
Butler and O’Neal were quick to note that there has already been good support from the local business community. Some businesses are even donating a portion of their sales to support the bond issue.
Like Butler and other parents, O’Neal and his wife “have skin in the game."
“All this really matters to me because we have a 10-year-old at Harbor Heights and I feel that education is incredibly important.”
Butler has a daughter in the first grade at Purdy and her husband and mother-in-law are both PHS graduates.
“There’s lots going on in our country that’s very concerning, so we’re focusing on education to sort of counter-act that,” O’Neal said. “And there’s no better place to stand up for education than in our own community.”
This is a transcript originally published in Gig Harbor Life on January 23rd, 2018