Coupeville Elementary School fifth graders May Crain, left, and Desi Ramirez-Vasquez take down the flag at the end of the school day March 31, 2017. The Coupeville School District is exploring options as it looks at long-range planning for the aging elementary school. One option is to build a new school away from the busy highway. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Coupeville eyes possibility of a new elementary school

Long before Dave Ebersole walked the grounds as principal of Coupeville Elementary School, he ran around the same fields as a child.

Ebersole, who grew up in Anacortes, spent lots of summers coming to Coupeville to camp at Fort Casey, but the elementary school became a favorite stomping ground as well.

“This playground and I became very familiar,” Ebersole said.

Fast forward nearly five decades and there is discussion starting about whether it might be time to consider a new location for the elementary school.

The Coupeville school board is examining various options as it tries to figure out the smartest way to address the immediate needs of the 46-year-old building while also considering its long-term future.

One option being discussed is to consider new construction on school-district property further away from State Highway 20, which borders the elementary school on the north side.

“I think if we want to tear down the older structure and build new, we might want to consider where the school’s at because of safety purposes,” Superintendent Jim Shank said during last month’s school board meeting.

All of this talk is very new and is really just discussion at this point, Shank said.

But he cautioned that the idea of building a new elementary school is a serious notion among the considerations.

At a retreat last month the school board was asked to identify facility needs over the next five years and the elementary school rose to the forefront of the discussion.

Talks centered around how to address the school’s aging modulars and building a new classroom wing was the most discussed option.

Since the retreat, the idea of rebuilding a school that will turn 50 in 2021 started getting tossed around.

At last month’s school board meeting, Shank and school board members began discussing whether it would be wise to sink money into adding a new wing on to an aging main structure.

“I think we owe it to the community to explore all options,” said school board member Christie Sears. “It may be an addition. It may be a new building. It may be going with what we’ve got. At this point, the discussion is exploratory.”

A project as large as building a new school is at least a five-year process from conception to completion, Shank said.

He said the project would require a voter-approved bond. He added that the current high school bond expires in December, 2022, and the last capital improvements levy collection ends in October, 2018.

Shank said if construction were considered to build a new elementary school, it would only make sense to move it to a site away from the highway. The school district owns the woods and field behind the elementary school as well as the property where the baseball field and practice soccer practice field exist near Ebey and Terry roads, among other land.

“There are pluses and minuses of staying there,” Ebersole said. “The perfect scenario, you’d move to an alternative site. Can we make it work? Sure. The elementary school has been on that corner since I was a little kid.”

The exterior of the existing elementary school is sound, Ebersole said. The infrastructure, however, is lacking, particularly the plumbing.

Another factor in the equation is the state’s push to reduce class sizes to 17 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade.

If the state holds school districts to that ratio, Coupeville will need more classrooms, school board president Kathleen Anderson said.

The school board has decided to form a facilities committee to look at viable options as it plans for the future.

“None of us have preconceived ideas,” said school board vice president Glenda Merwine. “Right now we want to gather as much as we can to discuss this and plan for the future.

“There may be options we may not have thought of. We want to be stewards of taxpayers here, the best stewards we can be. We never want to rush into something.”

Coupeville Elementary School children wait to depart for the day March 31, 2017. The Coupeville School District is exploring options as it looks at long-range planning for the aging elementary school. One option is to build a new school away from the busy highway. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

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