Orcas School looks at phase three of campus remodel

The first two stages of the Orcas Island School District remodel was completed last fall. Now a year later, talks of a third phase, and a new bond request to fund it, have begun.

The first two phases were completed between June 2014 and August 2015. After rejecting two previous requests for bonds, one for $35 million and another for $27 million, islanders approved a $11.9 million bond in 2012 which funded the first parts of the project.

Over the course of two days, Aug. 15 and 16, a meeting was held by Orcas Island School District Superintendent Eric Webb which outlined the Phase III campus updates. During the gathering, which was held at the school library, 10 members of the community listened as Webb presented a list of renovation proposals.

School Business Manager Keith Whitaker talked about a bond which will be up for voting by the island on Feb. 14, 2017. The proposed bond amount will depend on what specifics of the Phase III remodel are agreed upon. A bond to fund the construction could vary anywhere from $5 million to $8 million, with the project requiring almost $11 million to fund in its entirety.

“I personally feel a lot of this is essential to the programmatic health of the school,” said Brownell.

Though details of the proposal were discussed, nothing final was decided during the morning meetings. Many community members and parents said they would like to be included in the finalization of the proposal. The school board will plan an evening meeting that will allow input from the part of the community who were unavailable for the morning meetings.

“I think it is essential to have an evening meeting for parents and working community members,” said Brownell, who hopes that the meeting can be scheduled for mid-to-late September and decided upon during the next school board meeting.

“We will move forward,” said Webb. “Your input is valued.”

According to Webb, some proposed projects are more necessary than others; such as the replacement of the HVAC system in the high school. Both he and Brownell said that during the winter months some high school classrooms are heated with space heaters, which can cause fires or burn the skin of a student.

“Health and safety is our priority,” School Board Director Janet Brownell, who spoke on behalf of the board.

Another safety concern, noted Athletic Director Vicki Vandermay, are the wire mesh windows located throughout the school, primarily needing replaced in the weight room and gymnasium. Since 2006 wire mesh windows have been prohibited in the construction of new schools because they can cause serious injury when broken.

Small scale updates, which do not directly relate to the health or safety of students, include plumbing, paint and carpet replacement in the elementary and high school.

Larger proposed improvements are: adding restrooms and offices to the band room constructed during Phase II; a complete gutting and remodel of the old gym; and the creation of a track and field, half funded by a private donation of $1 million.

The old gym proposals would benefit both the school and the community, said Webb.

“It’s probably the most used building on our campus,” he explained.

On the weekends and throughout the summer Orcas Parks and Recreation rents out facility for indoor sports.

The creation of a track could also be beneficial to the community as well as the school.

“I think the track would be used all the time,” said Webb. “I think the community would use it.”

A private Orcas donor has given $1 million to the school for a six-lane track that could host competitions for school athletes and be available to the public.

Seventh to twelfth grade principal Kyle Freeman and Rick Hughes, county council member, parent and local business owner, agreed that a track would be beneficial to both the school and the community. Hughes said the elderly community may not feel comfortable walking around the streets of Eastsound and could walk around the track instead.

“I’m looking at that track – it’s almost like you can hold Olympic trials there,” said community member Fred Klein, who suggested that the track design looks grandiose for the island. “My concern … is the impact this proposal will have on taxpayers.”

Project manager Liz LeRoy explained that while the design looks large on the overlay of the school grounds, the track is the smallest track that would still be able to host competitions, which is a caveat of the $1 million donation.

“The district and the board are pretty committed to the track,” said Brownell.

Klein said he was not aware the school’s renovation project included a Phase III. Freeman said the process had been cut down to smaller increments at the request of the community.

“‘Do this and do this in pieces, come back and show us you’re doing a good job,’” Freeman said, paraphrasing what the school district heard from the community previously during the previous bond request. “We’ve got a donor willing to fund half the price. This is how things work well around here.”