School news | Construction nearly done, budget passed

School construction almost completed.

To those driving by this summer, it’s looked like a jumble of jackhammering, digging and painting. All that work is culminating with a big reveal at the end of August when the school’s renovation project is complete.

“So far, the students’ and staff’s reaction has been ‘wow,’” said Superintendent Eric Webb.

The $11.9 million project is slated to be done this month – just in time for the fall semester. The community is invited to a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Aug. 29. There will be building tours starting at 4 p.m. followed by a dedication ceremony at 4:30 p.m. and a barbecue at 5 p.m.

“The construction is on schedule and on budget,” said School Board Chair Janet Brownell. “We are very pleased with the work, and I think people will be stunned at the transformation.”

It marks the end of a five-year process that started with the school’s initial – and rejected – 35-million bond. Six months later voters shot down a $27 million bond. Third time was the charm when in November 2012, the 20-year, $11.9 million bond was approved. The architectural firm Mahlum designed a concept that kept the existing foundation and remodeled the 1980s middle school, library, cafeteria, music room, wood shop and culinary arts room.

School business manager Keith Whitaker notes that “creative work by the architects and flexibility by the school” were key in making the scaled-back project so successful.

Liz LeRoy served as the project manager, and a mix of local and off-island contractors performed the work. Leroy says the design principles included green practices, recycled materials and natural light. The lighting system is on timers to save energy and is all connected for remote access.

In the middle school remodel, a brand new band room (complete with special acoustical design) connects to the Old Gym stage. A career technical education center was built onto the back side of the high school for shop, applied physics and art. Its three rooms each have a garage door that opens into the new courtyard. The new tech room is an addition to the cafeteria/library room. It has interactive white boards that are hooked up to computers.

The library remodel features multiple rooms, a computer lab and a circulation desk built by shop teacher Mark Padbury.

“Kids learn multiple ways, so the library was designed for different ages and learning styles,” LeRoy said.

Webb is most excited about the new library, calling it the “center and focus of campus.”

The cafeteria building has a culinary arts room, a commercial kitchen, a new serving area for students. They were able to save some appliances from the old space in order to save money.

“The kitchen is hugely impressive,” LeRoy said.

Both the cafeteria/kitchen and library space can be rented out to the community for events.

Leroy says there is an openness and connection throughout the buildings on campus – particularly in the new courtyard between the elementary and middle school. By tearing down the band building, there is now a larger, two-lane area for parents to drop off their kids.

“Safety is our priority,” Webb said.

An unexpected component of the project was a flood in the elementary school at the end of this year school. There is now new flooring and drywall and fresh paint.

Other school news

Teresa Mayr has accepted the position of elementary principal. She is from Dieringer School District in Lake Tapps, Wash. and has just moved to Orcas Island. Watch for a full profile in a later edition.

This summer is also the one-year mark for Superintendent Eric Webb. Brownell says he has shown “remarkable resilience and open-mindedness” during a year of turmoil: the construction project, the elementary flood, union negotiations with teachers and staff and Elementary Principal Kathy Page quitting.

“I have never once heard him complain,” she said.

Webb says he is impressed by Orcas and wants to “involve the community even more – we have wonderful resources here.”

Webb also participated in his first Orcas School budget. The state legislature was late in passing its budget this year, which made the process more difficult. The school is budgeting for 785 full-time equivalent students. Last year’s enrollment ended at 804 so it’s a conservative estimation. However, this conservatism is based on slightly dropping enrollment.

The school’s budget is comprised of federal, state and private funding and totals $9.8 million. With expenses and set-asides for contingency and fund balance growth, the net budget balance surplus is about 13 dollars. After a reduction-in-force of nearly 8 full-time equivalent of teachers in the district’s minimum education plan for 2015-16, there was a reduction in force return of four FTE in the OASIS and special education departments at the July board meeting. The school’s budget was turned in to the state on Aug. 1.

The state’s budget is providing an increase in funding for kindergarten (it previously only paid for half days), a 3 percent increase in salaries for teaches, better health benefits and more funding for supplies. The state also increased schools’ contribution to the employees’ retirement funds by 2 percent. It’s an additional expense that each district has to fund itself.

Whitaker says there is a significant discrepancy between how much the state allocates for teacher and staff funding and how many teachers are actually required. The four-year levy always fills the gap. The current levy is 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation and expires at the end of 2016.

“If we didn’t have the levy, we would lose 15 full-time employees,” Brownell said.

Added Whitaker: “It could mean the end of music, athletics or other enrichment classes.”