New Oak Harbor high school too costly

Why build new when renovating is so much cheaper?

That’s the thinking of Oak Harbor school officials on how to fix Oak Harbor High School.

The school board studied the possibility of replacing rather than renovating the more than 30-year-old high school during a Wednesday afternoon workshop. However, the board appears to be moving forward with original plans of renovating the school.

Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, said it would cost an estimated $119 million to replace the high school. He said that number could fluctuate between $105 million and $125 million.

Some people in the community wanted to see a new high school after viewing the school’s dilapidated condition when they toured the facility during public hearings in November.

Paul Brewer, who is a member of the Oak Harbor City Council, said there are people who want to see the current school replaced.

“I think voters would vote for a new high school,” Brewer said, adding that the school district shouldn’t move forward with a spring bond election for a renovation. But school board members were reluctant to change the scope of plans that had been discussed numerous times with the district’s capital facilities committee and the public.

Board member Kathy Jones said changing plans to increase the project amount and the scope would go against what was advertised to the public many, many times.

During the November hearings, the school district unveiled a preliminary plan to renovate Oak Harbor High School that would cost nearly $70 million. The money would come from a $49.91 million bond, which needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass, and an estimated $20 million in state matching money.

School officials are considering tacking on an additional $5 million to increase the contingency fund needed should construction costs increase. Districts in neighboring areas have had costs for new high schools escalate millions of dollars over budget.

During the board meeting, Schulte presented a history of the local debate over whether to replace or rebuild the high school. He also listed reasons why it would be difficult to build a new school.

Talk about replacing the high school began in 1995 but it was dismissed as wasteful, extravagant and imprudent, Schulte said. The issue was discussed in subsequent years, but the community favored remodeling instead of replacement.

When the school district last ran a bond, which voters twice rejected in 2003, Schulte said many scrutinized the plans which called for replacing a third of the campus.

He also presented estimates of high school projects in Marysville, Lynnwood, Stanwood and Lake Stevens. If construction began on those projects the same time Oak Harbor’s project would begin, then the costs would range from $96 million to $113 million.

“Modernization is still, far and away, the preferred option,” Schulte said.

He added that there is a rumor around town that a new high school can be built for $80 million. “I think I have a lot of evidence that it isn’t true,” Schulte said.

He said that the best place for the high school is its current location. He said one could go in between the current high school and the proposed stadium, but it would overlook neighboring homes. The school district would need a 50-acre site for a new high school at another location.

Brewer said that people’s perceptions about the high school have changed since they last surveyed the community in 2003. He wants to see a high school with improved security.

He said a similar coalition that helped get the stadium bond passed could do the same for a new high school.

Jones pointed out the proposal that went before voters last November was reduced from the 2003 bond proposal.

The school board didn’t make any formal decision during the Wednesday afternoon workshop. Two board members, Dave McCool and Vicki Harring, were absent. They are expected to make a decision about a scope, amount and timing of a bond election in January.

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