By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“These schools were built in very different times,” Superintendent Kelly Shea said. “Have they become antiquated?”
The School Board on Monday night chose to negotiate a contract with Tacoma-based BLRB Architects to take a look at the district’s facilities and recommend possible changes.
“They’re really going to be taking a look behind the doors and behind the walls of all our facilities,” Shea said.
If the firm’s study shows a need for remodeling or new construction, the School Board would determine the extent of changes needed and whether the district needs to ask voters to approve a bond measure to pay for it.
Shea said his top concern is making sure students can be kept secure in an age of school shootings, as at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last December.
“After the Sandy Hook shootings, our phone was ringing off the hook with parents asking about our security,” Shea said.
The open design of the high school and Helen Haller Elementary, he said, make it difficult to lock them down in emergencies.
“How do you lock down a school when you have 40 to 50 doors that open to the outside?” he said.
Shea said the consultant will help the district ask the community whether replacing buildings would be preferable to putting new security measures in the existing ones.
“If you take extra steps to make your school secure, how far do go before you create an environment that creates more anxiety?” Shea asked.
“We’ve been asking these questions since Columbine in 1999.”
Shea also worried the state could require all-day kindergarten classes.
Currently, morning and afternoon kindergarten classes share rooms. All-day kindergarten would require additional classrooms.
“Right now, we don’t have any empty classrooms in the district,” Shea said, noting that other classes would have to give up their rooms if all-day kindergarten is instituted.
“And then those teachers are going to be working out of closets, out of hallways. There’s no space for them.”
Attendance at Sequim schools has stagnated over the past decade.
But it boomed in the 1990s, Shea said.
“If that were to happen again, there’s no way we could possibly house new students,” he said.
BLRB is now working with Brian Lewis, district business manager, to finalize a contract for its services that will be presented to the School Board for approval.
Lewis said the firm quoted a number of different hourly rates for different services, all of which could affect the cost.
He will present to the School Board options for the firm’s study, likely at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. March 18 at 503 N. Sequim Ave.
A series of meetings are to be held with district staff and the community to compile a plan for the next 50 years. Lewis expects the firm could begin the study as early as this month.
BLRB was selected from three firms that submitted their qualifications for the project in a special session with the School Board on Monday afternoon.
Also vying for the job were TCF Architecture and Erickson McGovern, both also based in Tacoma.
In 2008, the school district’s facilities committee recommended that the district build new buildings at the high school and at Helen Haller Elementary.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.