PORT ANGELES — Tonight (Thursday, Nov. 14) the Port Angeles School Board will consider if it will ask voters in February to approve a capital levy that would add 37,000 square feet to Stevens Middle School and modernize the existing building.
The levy is part of a 27-year plan to overhaul and replace failing school buildings across the district, Maintenance and Facilities Director Nolan Duce told the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. If the community doesn’t act now, he said, the district will face difficult decisions in the coming years.
“This is what scares me,” Duce said. “If we don’t start doing anything very soon, there’s going to come a point where we have four schools in the next 10 years that are in unsatisfactory condition, that are going to have so many needs that our bonding ability to do that isn’t going to be there.
“We won’t be able to borrow enough money,” he continued. “The choices the school board will have at that point are not going to be easy or good choices.”
The school board will consider putting the levy to voters during its meeting at 7 tonight at the Lincoln Center, 905 W. Ninth St.
Superintendent Martin Brewer said that the district is preparing to ask voters to consider a five-year levy, which would cost property owners about $2.62 per $1,000 of assessed value. According to the resolution, that levy would collect a total of $52.6 million.
Brewer said this plan “minimizes the burden on the local taxpayers as best we can.”
The district’s Educational Programs and Operations Levy is set to remain at $1.50 per $1,000 next year, despite the state allowing the district to increase it up to $2.50 without a vote of the people. Brewer said this is the lowest that this levy — which was $3.01 per $1,000 before the state overhauled funding of education — has been in many years.
The capital levy covers 37,000 square feet of new construction and an overhaul of the existing 72,000 square feet, which would be done in two phases.
The first phase would include construction of 18 new classrooms, new athletic fields, expansion of physical education and cafeteria space, new music rooms and new restrooms.
Once the new construction is complete, students would move into the new space and into temporary classrooms as the district remodels the existing building.
The new construction is expected to cost $475 per square foot while the modernization is expected to cost $381.15 per square foot, Brewer said.
Among the reasons for the high costs is that districts are required to pay prevailing wage and because schools are now required to be built to withstand the most severe earthquake the region has seen within the past 500 years.
Once complete, Stevens Middle School should be able to survive a more than magnitude 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, officials said.
When complete, the district would move sixth-grade students back to Stevens Middle School, freeing up space in all of the elementary schools.
The average cost in Washington is $415, but that includes schools in eastern Washington that aren’t threatened by as severe of earthquakes, Brewer said.
“How many buildings in Port Angeles will be something we can count on if something like this were to happen?” Duce asked the crowd.
Though the levy is part of a 27-year “performance-based” plan that involves asking voters to approve a series of bonds — all of which would be a similar tax rate — voters in February would be asked only to consider the Stevens construction, Brewer said.
“Accountability goes a long ways in this community,” Brewer said. “If we’re going to invest in our schools, we better have a check and balance.”
That check and balance is that every five or six years, voters would continue to have a say.
The district plans to ask voters to approve a bond in 2025 that would address Franklin Elementary and Port Angeles High School, another bond in 2031 that would complete construction at Port Angeles High School, a bond in 2037 that would address Hamilton Elementary and a bond in 2043 for Roosevelt Elementary School.
“It’s important for our folks in our community who have a fixed income that our rate does not fluctuate over time,” Brewer said.
All of the buildings that are addressed in the plan are considered to be in poor or unsatisfactory condition. In the worst condition currently is Franklin, which, on a scale of 1 to 100, is considered a 25, according to a study.
Hamilton is a 33; Roosevelt is a 57; Stevens is a 31; and Port Angeles High School is a 39.
Those scores drop by about one point each year, Brewer said.
“The building conditions really frame, in my assessment, the need to get behind the plan,” Brewer said. “This illustration demonstrates we have to have a plan moving forward to address a number of facilities.”
If approved, the district would begin updating safety features for a single-point of entry in all elementary schools. In 2021 it would design and build fields at the former Monroe Elementary School.
In 2022, the district would design Stevens Middle School and prepare to go out to bid.
The district plans to present the plan to the Port Angeles City Council during its 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall on Tuesday and to the Clallam County commissioners during their 9 a.m. work session Dec. 9. Both meetings will be open to the public.
For more information, visit portangelesschools.org/2020levy.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.