PORT ANGELES — “We have more needs than money,” Nolan Duce said, as he presented the Port Angeles School District’s 2017-2029 proposed capital facilities plan.
In a 4-to-1 vote, with board member Susan Shotthafer dissenting, the Port Angeles School Board approved three elements of the plan at its Thursday meeting.
The board approved advertising for architectural and engineering services and awarding a contract, updating Stevens Middle School to accommodate 900 students and constructing a new building at Port Angeles High School.
Shotthafer opposed the plan because she believes voters need more time to participate in public dialogue and she “philosophically” opposes the simple majority vote required for a levy, she said.
Board members also amended the motion by a 4-to-1 vote, with board president Josh Jones opposing, to consider using the former site of the North Olympic Skills Center, the Lincoln Center, as a school.
Jones opposed the amendment because he felt it was a “very good plan” without the addition of considering the Lincoln Center as a school. The plan had been discussed over two years and met the district’s pressing capital needs, Jones said.
Once the district hires an architecture firm to review the recommendations, the board will be able to firm up the exact cost of the projects and numbers for a capital levy.
At the meeting, Duce, director of maintenance and operations, estimated the costs for the board.
Stevens Middle School
Constructing a new building to move all sixth-grade students in the district to Stevens Middle School, as well as increasing the size of the lunchroom, kitchen and music room to accommodate 900 students, would cost $15,580,000 at $500 per square foot, Duce estimated.
“That’s being a little more conservative than I’d like,” he said.
Based on a more “realistic” $525 per square foot, the renovations and new building would cost $16,359,000.
Board director Sandy Long questioned if Duce had considered moving the sixth-grade students to the Lincoln Center.
“I would rather see the Lincoln Center be a school than a central office,” Long said.
“I really like the concept of sixth-grade centers. I worked with elementary students for forever and a day, and they are kind of the lone rangers — they don’t seem to fit in any place.”
Duce said the center is about 10,000 square feet short and lacks a gym, but renovations could be made.
Board vice president Sarah Methner said it was a “bit cheeky” to talk about the center because the district doesn’t own the entire building yet — Peninsula College owns 13 percent.
“We also don’t have a capital levy yet,” Long said.
The board voted to consider the center as an option.
Port Angeles High School
To replace the 100 and 900 buildings at Port Angeles High School with a new science and technology building would cost $24,605,000 at the $500 per square foot estimate and $25,834,800 at the $525 per square foot estimate, Duce said.
Both projects at $500 per square foot would cost $40,185,000 or $42,193,000 at $525 per square foot, he estimated.
During the public comment period, three people spoke about the capital facilities plan.
Barbara Gapper said moving forward with the capital levy was the “most sensible” option.
“The capital levy is not perfect,” Gapper said. “Not everyone is going to be happy about it, but we need to be realistic about our buildings.”’
She enumerated several reasons why she favors a levy, including lack of funding from the legislature and the district’s inability to fund some capital projects without dipping into its general fund.
“I would also urge you to be sure there’s a provision in the plan to receive input from the community and staff,” Gapper said.
In the same vein, Bonnie Schmidt advocated for more public discussion about levies and bonds.
She lamented what she called the board’s “lack of communication and participation,” she said.
Schmidt said she and her husband have been reaching out to the board for a year with concerns about the facilities plan, but they did not receive answers.
“If you could just for a moment please step into my shoes and hear how hard it is to be a member of the community reaching out, trying to understand, gather the correct information, going through all the documents, asking questions and receive zero feedback.”
She also recommended the board conduct surveys about the plan.
“The [William Shore] pool, the Elwha Bridge, Race Street, Lake Crescent road construction — all invited the community to forums, surveys, meetings,” she said. “It would be so easy to implement a Survey Monkey kind of survey that could be sent out by email to everyone in the district, by Facebook, by paper.”
Steve Methner disagreed with Schmidt’s statements about a lack of public participation.
“I do feel strongly that this has been debated and hashed on and worked on for years in a very public way, and there comes a time when you need to act,” Methner said. “There will be people who feel they were not consulted, and they may not have been consulted because it’s impossible to do that in every way.”
He also said surveys do not always produce their desired effect — while they might be “fantastic” in theory, in practice, they can produce a false sense that a vote has taken place.
“We must be very, very careful when you create what feels like a vote and not be able to honor what has been said because there’s a plan in place or it’s just not workable because a lay person doesn’t know the details.”
The public can view the capital facilities plan and related documents at BoardDocs in the Sept. 7 agenda.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.