New school in Sequim? Panel throws out options for growth
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Students move around Sequim High School as Superintendent Kelly Shea discusses the difficulties of keeping track of students on the open campus. A panel is looking at how growth will affect Sequim schools. -- Photo by Joe Smillie/Peninsula Daily News

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– Does Sequim need to build a new elementary school?

That is one of the proposals put forth by a special committee charged with reviewing the how well the school district’s facilities are suited for the future in a recent public forum.

The committee of parents, retirees and business owners has been meeting over the past six months with BLRB Architects of Tacoma, a firm that specializes in school designs, to determine how the district is situated for future growth.

The group’s findings will be brought to the School Board for a decision on whether or not to put an expansion plan up to the district’s voters for a bond.

“We’re going to grow,” Superintendent Kelly Shea said. “We need to be thinking of a plan to accommodate that.”

Other options put forth at last week’s forum included a remodel or rebuild of the Sequim High School, which is at 601 N. Sequim Ave., and expansion of four more classrooms and a gymnasium at Greywolf Elementary at 171 Carlsborg Road.

Sequim Middle School at 301 W. Hendrickson Road, which was built in 1998, has adequate facilities, Shea said, and does not yet need more room.

Even if the board decided to float a bond today, Shea said, a new school would not be ready for students for three to five years.

Shea cited a recent study by the North Olympic Library System, which is considering a new building for its library in Sequim, that predicted another 3,000 people would move into the school district by 2020.

That, based on average demographics, would add 300 students to the district.

While many school districts on the North Olympic Peninsula are dealing with declining enrollment, Sequim is among those that have seen slight increases in recent years.

“How do you future-think?” asked Lee Fenton, managing partner for BLRB at the meeting last week. “How do you future-plan?”

Mayor Ken Hays said the city needs more younger citizens to work in jobs that support the city’s large population of retirees.

“All specialized communities require support,” Hays said.

Those younger workers and their families are bringing down the city’s average age, Hays said, noting 60 percent of Sequim is currently 55 or over, compared to 69 percent in 2000.

One suggestion unveiled last week was to build a new elementary school on the east side of Sequim. Both Greywolf and Helen Haller elementary schools are nearing capacity, Shea said.

The district decided not to offer all-day kindergarden classes this school year, in part because it had no room for the additional students.

Rather than retro-fit the 1972-vintage Helen Haller at 350 W. Fir St., on the 55-acre main campus, the committee thought a new school on the east side would better accommodate both future growth and better reflect the city’s current population center.

“This was the neighborhood in 1950,” Shea said. “But that’s moving.”

As of now, the line for the two schools is five blocks west of Helen Haller, which means students who live closer to the main campus have to ride buses 6.5-miles west to Greywolf, Shea said.

Fenton added that saving the Haller property could allow for the district’s future growth, as the district could create an intermediary fourth-and-fifth-grade school on the site if the elementary schools grew past capacity.

Helen Haller was originally used as an intermediary school when it was built, as the population of the original Helen Haller school, now the condemned Community School across Fir Street, outgrew its facilities.

Another factor in replacing Haller is its open campus, with separate pods of classrooms that can be accessed by the public without having to check-in with the main office.

Shea said that creates security concerns for students and makes the school more difficult to lock down in the event of an emergency.

As it is now, teachers lock their classroom doors, which means students have to knock for re-entry if they go to the bathroom or the office.

“Every time a student knocks, it disrupts learning,” Shea said.

The same security issues exist with the open high school campus, built in 1968.

“It makes it really hard for us to keep track of our students when they can just walk off at any time,” Shea said.

The open campus design was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, Felton said, but those schools now are being phased out because of their security concerns.

He praised the design of the city’s old high school, now being used as offices for administration.

“It’s durable and it’s found a really productive new use,” Felton said.

The old high school has been renovated over the past few years. That remodel will be unveiled with a special open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 19.

Another community forum about the district’s facilities is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Sequim High School library, 503 N. Sequim Ave.

For more information, call the school district at 360-582-3260.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 07. 2013 6:47PM
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