By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Peninsula Daily News
SEQUIM –– Sequim School District voters will decide April 22 whether to build $154 million worth of new and remodeled schools.
On a unanimous vote during Tuesday night’s special meeting, the district’s board of directors decided to put a bond measure on the spring special election ballot.
“What do we need for our students and staff to be successful? We heard from a panel that this is what we need,” School Board President John Bridge said.
“I think that we have a responsibility to let the voters decide, ‘Yes, we can do this.’”
Raising $140 million
The measure would raise $140 million for a new $28.5 million elementary school to replace Helen Haller and massive remodels of the high school and two existing elementary schools.
Another $9 million would be used to build a new stadium and upgrade the school’s playfields and track.
The bond also would fund roofing projects, a remodel of the district’s bus shop and construction of a new, centralized maintenance building.
“I believe with my heart this is the right direction for this district to go,” Superintendent Kelly Shea said after the board’s vote.
A building a year
Lee Fenton with BLRB Architects of Tacoma, the district’s consultant to the School Board and a special citizen facility review committee, said the likely schedule would have a new school building finished every year from 2016 through 2019.
If the measure passes, a new elementary school probably would be ready for the 2016-17 school year, the remodeled Greywolf for the 2017-18 school year, the remodeled high school for the 2018-19 school year and a remodeled Helen Haller ready in 2019.
The new school likely would be built on the east side of town, though the district does not yet have land for the building.
The facilities committee studied the district’s buildings for eight months in 2013 and returned to the board a $169 million list of improvements it deemed necessary.
That committee was instructed to disregard financial implications in its study of the district’s facilities.
The School Board trimmed some projects off the list but agreed with the facilities committee’s assessment of the district’s needs, noting that the buildings will only continue to deteriorate.
“It’s been a long time that we’ve been putting these things off,” Bridge said.
“When you keep putting Band-Aids on stuff like this, I don’t think it’s a good use of our money.”
“It comes down to what [facilities committee member] Dave Mattinley said to me,” board member Sarah Bedinger said. “If not now, when?”
Jon Gores of DA Davidson said the bonds would carry a 20-year term and add approximately $1.74 per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax bills of landowners in the district.
Gores estimated the bonds would be issued at a 5.25 percent interest.
Given the district’s low debt load and its AA+ credit rating, though, the actual rate could be lower, he said.
The tax bill for the owner of a $200,000 home would increase approximately $29 per month.
The Sequim School District’s taxes are spread across a $3.7 billion property base.
Among the five public school districts in Clallam County, Sequim’s 2013 levy rate of $2.29 per $1,000 valuation is higher than only Crescent School District’s $1.69.
Port Angeles School District’s levy rate was $3.53 in 2013, Quillayute Valley School District’s was $3.55, and Cape Flattery’s was $4.30.
“Not to make it a value judgment, but there’s nothing wrong with low taxes, right?” School Board member Mike Howe asked.
The bonds would add to the Sequim tax total, but a 1998 bond for construction of the newest buildings at the high school will be paid off this year, lowering the rate by 71 cents per $1,000.
Board members considered lengthening the bond to a 25-year term to lower the millage rate but opted for the shorter schedule to save some $50 million in interest.
Campaign committee ready
Board members had previously worried an April vote would not give Citizens for Sequim Schools enough time to put together a campaign to advocate for the measure.
Bedinger, though, said group members she spoke with said they would be able to launch such a campaign in that time frame.
“If you had to poll them, I’d say they preferred April, actually,” Bedinger told the rest of the board Tuesday.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at email@example.com.