PORT ANGELES — Asbestos tiles, corroded and bursting pipes, outdated electrical systems and roaring heaters are among the reasons the Port Angeles School District is preparing to ask voters to approve a $66 million capital levy for new construction at Stevens Middle School, officials said.
The proposal is the first step of the district’s proposed 27-year plan to renovate and replace failing buildings across the school district at Stevens Middle School, Franklin Elementary School, Port Angeles High School, Hamilton Elementary School and Roosevelt Elementary School, Superintendent Martin Brewer said.
“We’re at a critical point in my assessment,” Brewer said. “We’re at a turning point. If we don’t start taking action now, our buildings will reach a point where we may not have any solutions.”
The School Board has generally expressed support for the plan, but has not taken any formal votes.
District staff are currently conducting community outreach, but are preparing to ask the Port Angeles School Board to approve a resolution that would place a proposal for a levy of $2.75 per $1,000 assessed value on the February ballot.
Voters in February would consider only the levy, not the entire 27-year plan.
That levy would fund 37,000 square feet of new construction at Stevens Middle School, including 18 new classrooms, a new athletic field, expansion of gym and cafeteria space, a new music room and new restrooms.
It would also fund a complete remodel of the existing building — down to the concrete slab — and allow for safety and security improvements. Among those safety improvements, officials said, is enclosed walking spaces between buildings, a single secure point of entry and many exits that are locked from the outside.
That would mean a total of 109,000 square feet for an estimated 930 students at the middle school.
Brewer said construction likely would begin in 2023 and the new wing on the middle school would be opened in 2024.
Combined with the district’s $1.50 enrichment levy, property owners in the Port Angeles School District would pay $4.25 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a home valued at $200,000, that would mean an increase of $550 per year.
“That’s a healthy investment in our schools, but based on conditions, we need to invest in our schools,” Brewer said.
That combined levy rate is more than a $1 per $1,000 less than the last two proposals that narrowly failed.
In 2014, voters were asked to approve a 20-year bond to replace Port Angeles High School, which would have brought the district’s combined levy up to $5.39.
Last year, voters rejected a six-year capital levy that would have modernized and replaced Stevens Middle School. That combined tax rate would have been $5.48 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Brewer said that when the district passed its $55 million budget last month, it had the authority to raise its enrichment levy — without a vote of the public — from $1.50 to $2.50, but the School Board chose not to increase taxes.
“We have demonstrated that we have balanced the budget and we had the authority … and we chose not to,” Brewer said. “We have committed to the new model of funding and balanced our budget accordingly.”
“We could make an argument or case to start at the elementary schools, at the middle school or the high school. We have a need at all three levels,” Brewer said. “We’ve got failing buildings all the way around.”
Every five years the district is required to hire an independent firm to assess the conditions of its schools, and the reports coming back are not good.
Hamilton, Roosevelt, Stevens and Port Angeles High School are all rated in poor condition while Franklin is rated in unsatisfactory condition.
“I would like to tell you that we have Franklin for another seven to 10 years, but I can’t guarantee that,” Brewer said.
“It’s out of our control when a county or city comes in and assesses a building on how safe that building is. We’re doing everything we can, to keep Franklin, the middle school and some areas of the high school as close to code as we can.”
Stevens is projected to become “unsatisfactory” in 2022 while Hamilton is projected to become unsatisfactory in 2024. If voters buy into the plan, Roosevelt would be replaced before it became unsatisfactory.
“Franklin is at or near failing,” Brewer said. “Our electrical in that building is at capacity and is out dated. It’s out of compliance with new codes of the 21st century.”
Brewer said that the rating for Port Angeles High School is an average, meaning some buildings are unsatisfactory while others are poor or fair. The average building would become unsatisfactory in 2030.
“If we don’t address a long-term solution that addresses all of our facilities, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years from now, that generation of educators and students will be facing very dire decisions about how do we keep these buildings open,” Brewer said.
Under the current plan, the levy — if passed — would run through 2024 and would fund the new construction and renovation at Stevens.
When the new wing of the building opened in 2024, the district would then ask voters to consider a $122 million bond at the same or similar tax rate.
That bond would replace the levy and construction on a new Franklin School would begin in 2025. A projected $96 million replacement of half of the high school would begin the same year.
Voters would then be asked to pass a $72 million bond to either complete or nearly complete the high school.
In 2037, the district would ask for another $94 million bond to replace Hamilton and finish any remaining construction at the high school.
Another $94 million bond would be requested for 2043 and would fund the replacement of Roosevelt Elementary School.
Brewer said that for K-8 schools, the district projects that it would receive about $24.5 million in state assistance throughout the 27-year period.
The district estimates that there would be about $19 million in state assistance for ninth through 12th grades.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].