Opinion

Sound Off: Needs are real, cost is reasonable

By the OAK HARBOR SCHOOL BOARD

The Oak Harbor School Board unanimously endorses the renovation of Oak Harbor High School and asks the voters to join them in a yes vote on May 16. The project is complex and will replace most major systems, including such things as roofs, heating and ventilation systems and add space to the building. It is work that is needed in spite of good maintenance over the years. These systems have just outlived their useful lives.

The current high school roof, for instance, is the cheapest of all possible roofs. It is flat asphalt and spans 200,000 square feet, about 100 times that of an average house. The fact that it has lasted 32 years is a testament to good maintenance, but it should be replaced with a sloped metal or plastic membrane roof that besides fixing leaks will also provide protected space for heating units, duct work, insulation and cable pathways.

Likewise, the electrical system is original, with same transformers and circuit breakers installed in 1974. The school still has the original water heaters and lights. When the building was expanded in 1991 to add 9th graders, we added more rooms to accommodate 450 new students, but did not expand common areas such as hallways, and cafeteria. Our heating and air exchange units are original, and spare parts are often no longer available. We do not have the infrastructure to support computers and other digital equipment that are an essential part of a high school education.

If it were just one or two things, we’d fix those. But it’s not. The needs are system-wide. It needs a system-wide fix. Just like every high school in the state, ours is worn out after 30 years. The state knows that, which is why it provides matching funds to modernize schools 30 years old or older.

With a modernization, we will be able to build additional classrooms, lab and shop spaces and widen hallways. Education and the curriculum we teach have changed over the last 30 years and the spaces we have today are often too small for the course work offered. An example of this is the science labs where so many students are enrolled that there are desks between the lab stations which have to be moved out of the way and up to the front of the room anytime the teacher wants to have a lab. Our new advanced placement science classes require more lab activities using more advanced equipment that our current space does not support.

Another example is that 30 years ago we had home economics, which taught students (mostly girls) how to cook at home. Today we have the Washington State champions in Culinary Arts, the result of classes designed to teach students (both boys and girls) how to cook and run a food business. Computers were not part of our curriculum 30 years ago and today there is not a job being done which will not require a student to operate a computer.

There are some who would like to confuse the issue with statistics and argue about projected enrollment. The truth is that our high school space needs are based on current enrollment — the school is too small for the students we have right now. Our high school plans are based on expectations of stable enrollment, without excessive growth or decline. Our district has operated within budget for as long as Dr. Schulte has been superintendent here. He has accurately forecast enrollment for budget purposes for 18 years. We gather data from the city and county on building permits and from the Navy on their plans for moving people into and out of the area. State auditors have applauded the district’s excellent financial record keeping in annual audits.

The state of Washington will match our local taxes, with up to $20 million. This makes the cost of the bond $54 million to local property owners. The cost is estimated to be $.85 per thousand dollars or $170 per year on a $200,000 home. By paying the bonds off in 15 years instead of the typical school bond term of 20 years we will save as much as $10 million in interest costs.

The school board asks for the voters’ approval of the high school renovation bond. The need is real and is not going away. The longer we wait the more it will cost.

The Board of Directors Oak Harbor School District: Kathy Jones, Gary Wallin, Vicki Harring, Corey Johnson, Dave McCool.

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