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Board explores remodel options

The Oak Harbor School District Board of Directors decided at its regular meeting Monday night to explore three options that involve either remodeling the high school or building a new one.

The board also agreed to begin an examination of the three options, each of which would cost between $40 million and $55 million. Public input would be part of the examination, including public meetings, surveys and focus groups.

“The idea is we want to get a broad representation from people that are not ordinarily involved,” said Rick Schulte, superintendent of schools, at the meeting.

The state would provide matching funds in the amount of $12 million in each of the three options, but each option would also involve tax increases for Oak Harbor School District property owners. Once an option is decided upon, it would become a ballot measure for voters to approve or decline.

Schulte provided the board with an example of six different options to consider, but the board narrowed the list to three, saying the other three options would not meet the educational needs of the district.

“substantial fix”

The first option, called Option A in Schulte’s report, would involved a major remodel of the existing high school, with a $40 million price tag. Schulte’s notes indicate that a major remodel would be consistent with the district’s long-term facility plan and would be in line with “prior estimates, assumptions, and statements.” It would provide a “substantial fix” to the high school, and extend the building’s useful life by 20 or 30 years. It would also provide space within the high school to add needed educational programs. One disadvantage to Option A, said Schulte, is that it may not provide for expanded gymnasium seating or a performing arts center. The tax rate increase on this option is estimated to be 66 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value.

“Full remodel”

The second option that the board has tentatively decided to consider is what Schulte called Option B, a “full remodel.” With a $50 million price tag, it would include all the items identified by staff, parents, students and the community in previous district surveys as being desirable additions to the high school facility. It would also extend the useful life of the building by 20 or 30 years and would allow for program additions. One disadvantage of this option is that the cost would approach that of starting from scratch and building a new school. Tax rates would increase by an estimated 88 cents if this option were approved by voters.

New building

The final option the board chose to explore is what Schulte called Option D, and it would be the construction of a new high school, just west of the site of the current high school. Construction is estimated to cost about $55 million, equalling a tax rate increase of 99 cents. Schulte explained in his report that a new high school would have a new 30-year life expectancy and would actually reduce square footage of the school by 25,000 square feet, reducing operating costs of the building. It would also provide for a performing arts center, gymnasium seating, a cafeteria, a library and offices. A two-story structure, Schulte wrote, would also leave more land area for playing fields and parking.

Schulte listed several disadvantages to starting over with a new school. The existing building was pronounced “sound” by Hutteball and Oremus, the architects that recently completed a study and survey of school buildings. Additionally, Schulte recognized that this is an expensive option.

Also, the district added 60,000 square feet of space to the existing high school in 1991. Therefore, no state matching funds would be received to replace that amount of space. The state already gave the district matching funds to build that addition, and requires use of that space for 20 years before any more matching funds would be given for that same space.

Still, board members agreed that the option of building a brand new high school should be presented to the public, although some said they would not favor that option.

“I just don’t think the public is going to go for a whole new high school,” said Vicki Harring, board member. “I think we need to work with Options A and B.”

Board member John Dyer agreed that a new school building would not be his first choice.

However, board member Kathy Chalfant offered a different perspective.

“It’s only $5 million more than a (full) remodel,” Chalfant said. “I would like it to stay in there and ask the public about it.” Chalfant said the construction of a completely new high school would give the district the chance to start over with a design that promotes learning.

Usefulness of a proposed performing arts center at the high school is one area the school board wants to receive input. Schulte said he will ask district and staff their thoughts on how much use such a facility would get.

Arts Foundation pitches center

Tony Steadman of Whidbey Performing Arts Foundation, a group that has been attempting to build a performing arts center in Oak Harbor, spoke to the school board at Monday night’s meeting.

Steadman said that the foundation has tried other options for building a performing arts center, but with those hopes deflated, the school district is the “last shot” at having a performing arts center here.

Steadman agreed to provide information to the school board gathered from future surveys and signature-gathering from the community, to show support for the addition of a center to the high school. Steadman also said that the foundation would help the school district with fund raising to help pay for a center at the high school.

Kathy Jones, school board president, said that the decision whether or not to include a performing arts center will wait until the board receives data from both Schulte and the Whidbey Performing Arts Foundation to “see how often it would be used.”

The board’s decision to move forward with looking into a high school remodel or new construction has resulted in the beginning of an information-gathering phase. Schulte said he will develop a schedule for public meetings by February of March.

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