North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

ASD considers $107M bond

 

November 8, 2017

Christopher Andersson

Arlington School District executive director of operations Brian Lewis talks about a $107 million bond during a special board meeting for the district on Nov. 2.

The Arlington School Board is considering sending a $107 million bond to the voters that would rebuild Post Middle School and expand Arlington High School.

The bond measure is constructed so that the tax rate would remain relatively level with the current rate, as the tax rates from the last bond measure passed in Arlington are set to expire soon.

The local school district has been looking at their own facilities with community members since 2014 in preparation for a new bond.

"When I came on over a year ago this was one of the charges given to me," said Arlington School District Superintendent Chrys Sweeting.

Sweeting said that district officials and community members have looked over the needs and put together a bond package that is now being looked over by the school board.

A rebuild of Post Middle School is the biggest project in the proposal. The middle school originally opened in 1981.

"People wonder about Post and say 'well, it's really not that old of a school,'" said board president Jeff Huleatt. "I've wondered that a little bit myself."

He said that the school was built without hallways at a time when that campus style was trendy, but it needs those hallways and other improvements now.

To remodel the school would require nearly as much money as a rebuild, according to district officials, so the better investment would be to simply build a new school now.

Managing principal at McGranahan Architects Chris Lilley said that the current plans for a new Post Middle School include 15 general classrooms, five science labs and six classrooms meant for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or art purposes.

"These STEM rooms are a little larger to allow project-based learning to happen," said Lilley.

McGranahan Architects is the firm that worked with the district to build the current Arlington High School.

At that time they left space for an expansion, which the bond would use to add eight classrooms and a large room for art and science projects.

"That will help support programs like the theater program, the robotics program, and other science and art programs," said Lilley.

All elementary schools would receive audio systems for classrooms, which allow teachers to speak into a wireless microphone.

"Particularly at the elementary school level, students have not developed the ability to fill in the gaps of communication," said Lilley. "A lot of studies have shown that these systems do improve student learning."

All schools would also receive a variety of security improvements.

These include entry vestibules to control how people enter the building when class is in session, electronic locks for outside doors, locks that be secured from inside of a classroom for inside doors and security cameras.

Various other improvements, including replacing Weston High School's HVAC system, Haller Middle School's boiler and furnace, and all of Eagle Creek's carpeting are also part of the proposed package.

The total estimated cost of the projects would be $107,408,000.

School board member Jim Weiss said he's "comfortable" with the proposal but admitted that $107 million is a large number.

"I couldn't imagine $107 million sitting on a table, but I can see $107 million worth of work that needs to be done," he said.

Ursula Ghirardo, school board member, said that a bond north of $100 million could be hard to sell to the local voters.

"From what I've seen with recent Stanwood and Marysville bonds the numbers are in the hundreds of millions now instead of $40 million or $50 million that people may be used to seeing," she said.

"That has a lot to do with our tax base and what it can support and also how much more it costs to build a school 20 years later [since the district's last bond measure]," she said.

Construction costs have also continued to climb in the last couple of years.

"The construction market in the Puget Sound area is extremely hot and prices have climbed really fast," said Lilley.

"It looks like we're at the top of a cycle right now," said Huleatt, who added that was the case last time as well, but prices dropped allowing the district to build more projects than estimated.

"We can hope we hit the cycle at the same time, but obviously there's no assurance of that," he said.

Bond measures are the primary way that school districts construct and maintain school buildings.

Arlington School Board member Bob McClure said the public sometimes doesn't understand the different ways a school district is funded.

Although recent Washington state legislature budgets have increased some funding for districts, the vast majority of those funds must be used for specific functions, like operations, supplies or teachers' salaries.

Funding for constructing or improving buildings (a.k.a. capital projects) still mainly comes from local bond measures.

"There is a little bit of assistance here and there from the state, but it is a local responsibility mostly," said Ghirardo.

Huleatt said he appreciated the years-long process that the district has taken to come up with their bond proposal.

"This is not an easy thing to make a decision on in one sense, but on the other hand it is easy because it has been a process getting here and it's made sense along the way," he said.

If the school board approves the proposed bond package the vote would likely appear on the February ballot for Arlington voters.

District officials say they are ready to talk with the community if the school board moves forward.

"We're prepared to share the information with a variety of stakeholders," said Sweeting, who said they have scheduled a number of meetings with community groups and some for the general public as well.

 

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