By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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Clallam County elections officials were scheduled to mail 21,577 ballots for the April 22 election to school district voters Wednesday.
Another 272 ballots were set to be mailed out to Jefferson County voters in the district.
The district needs at least 60 percent approval from voters for its bond initiative to move ahead with a $154 million list of construction projects.
“It's a community decision. Probably the biggest we've had,” Superintendent Kelly Shea said.
The district wants the approval to issue $154 million in bonds to replace or remodel all its schools.
That list includes an $87 million overhaul of Sequim High School; $25.5 million for a new elementary school; $17.7 million to renovate Greywolf Elementary School; $8 million to remodel Helen Haller Elementary School, and approximately $4.75 million to replace the high school athletic facilities, including all-weather turf on the playing fields and a new stadium.
The bond also includes upgrades to technology infrastructure, demolition of the Sequim Community School, moving the high school choir and band room to the main campus and modernizing the high school's central kitchen.
“That kitchen blows me away,” Shea said. “It was built in 1979, when we had 1,200 students. Now, we're over 2,700 and doing it from the same place.”
The list of improvements was developed throughout much of last year by a citizen panel charged with reviewing the district's facilities.
The panel, which forwarded a $175 million list of improvements to the school board in December 2013, submitted many of the same improvements called for by a similar panel in 1998.
A preliminary construction timeline would have the new elementary school built on the east side of the city in time for the 2016-2017 school year.
That would leave Helen Haller open to house students while Greywolf is remodeled for the 2017-2018 school year and while the high school is remodeled for the 2018-2019 school year.
Helen Haller would then be remodeled for use by Olympic Peninsula Academy and alternative school students in 2019.
The 20-year bonds would be funded by Sequim School District tax payers, those living between McDonald Creek on the west and Diamond Point Road on the east, at an estimated $2.24 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
With the expiration of a special bus levy and a 1996 construction bond, district tax payers would see their overall rates rise from the current $2.14 to $3.85. For the owner of a $250,000 home, that means a property tax increase of approximately $425.
Sequim's current levy rate of $2.24 is the second lowest in Clallam County. Crescent School District's levy of $1.62 per $1,000 is the lowest.
E. Michael McAleer, local real estate agent and member of the pro-bond group Citizens for Sequim Schools, said that while taxes may see a significant increase, the rates would still be a great value to the district.
The $3.85 per $1,000 levy rate for the Sequim School District would still be lower than the $4.44 statewide average and the $4.46 average rate for schools with a similar size.
“And we would have brand new facilities,” he said. “That's value.”
District officials said the schools do not currently have the space to hold the influx of students that will come with the pending implementation of all-day kindergarten classes.
Both Helen Haller and Greywolf are using portable classrooms and would have to buy more over the next two years to accommodate another 180 kindergarten students.
Brian Lewis, the district's business director, said a pending boom of young students will likely compound the lack of space.
With increased births in the district over the past few years, school officials are expecting kindergarten counts to rise from 208 students in 2014-2015 to 240 by 2017-2018.
The new elementary school and the high school renovations would do away with the open campus designs that officials said make it difficult to track students or adults who come on or leave the schools.
“There's so many doors, it's almost impossible to know if somebody comes in or if a student leaves during the day,” Shea said.
A forum on the bond is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, in the high school library, 503 N. Sequim Ave., and the district has posted informational videos on YouTube as the April 22 election day nears.
For more information, phone the district office at 360-582-3260.
For links to the YouTube videos, visit www.sequim.k12.wa.us/Page/3630.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.