News

$54 million fixer-upper

Oak Harbor High School is falling apart and it will cost $74 million to fix it.

To pay for that, school officials will ask voters to approve a $54 million bond in an election set for May 16.

That money, plus an estimated additional $20 million in state matching funds, will pay for a major renovation that includes replacement of the school’s aging infrastructure, replacement of the leaky roof, increased classroom size and tightened security.

If approved, school officials hope the modernization will allow use of the high school for another 30 years. It was built about 30 years ago.

“I don’t think there will be any of the school left untouched,” Superintendent Rick Schulte, describing the project after the Monday evening school board meeting.

Should the bond, which needs a 60 percent supermajority, pass, it would cost taxpayers an estimated 85 cents per $1,000 of property value. Including the bond approved in 1996, the maintenance and operations levy and the stadium bond voters approved last November, the tax rate would be $2.58 through 2022.

The $54 million bond is $4 million more than preliminary estimates. The school board tacked on the extra amount to provide a greater contingency in case construction costs come in higher than expected. A couple of school districts in the area are dealing with high construction costs. Cost estimates for a new high school in Coupeville came in millions of dollars over budget. Coupeville school officials decided to delay several projects until the bid for the high school is known and state matching money comes available. Mount Vernon decided to take out non-voter-approved, limited government obligation bonds when costs for its high school escalated.

During the meeting, several people came forward to question whether the bond would meet the school district’s needs.

Oak Harbor City Councilman Paul Brewer wants officials to look at building a new high school on the current campus.

“If we can build new, we can change the image,” Brewer said, adding the costs of the school renovation won’t be known until the project begins.

He recommended that the school district put both the renovation proposal and replacement high school proposal on the May ballot and let the voters decide.

Oak Harbor resident Scott Hornung questioned the school district’s figures and a 17-page memo Schulte wrote outlining the modernization plan, the project’s history and justification.

He took issue with a passage stating Hornung was the first person to suggest building a new high school where the current North Whidbey Middle school is located. He wanted to see proof that he ever made the recommendation.

Hornung also wanted documents justifying the need for additional classroom space, information showing the district’s projection for construction cost increases in coming years, and information about the district’s estimates for state matching money.

He recommended that the school board put off the decision until numbers are better known.

That didn’t happen, however. School board members Kathy Jones, Dave McCool, Corey Johnson, Vicki Harring and Gary Wallin unanimously approved running a May bond election where voters decide whether to approve a $54 million bond. Board members said the project provides the best facilities for the students while using community dollars economically.

“Our job is to give the best to our kids,” board member Vicki Harring said. “We can’t justify demolishing a good facility.”

Those comments were echoed by fellow board member Kathy Jones.

“It’s a good solid plan that will provide a good school,” Jones said.

The Oak Harbor Harbor School District last ran a high school bond twice in 2003, Both times it failed to garner the 60 percent supermajority needed to pass.

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