DOD official tours ‘substandard’ school facility

A federal employee traveled from Washington D.C. to tour Crescent Harbor Elementary last Tuesday.

A federal employee traveled from Washington D.C. to tour Crescent Harbor Elementary last Tuesday to assess the poor condition of the school.

Patrick O’Brien, director of the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation, visited the school, which is on federal property. The office assists local governments and communities that are impacted by the Department of Defense.

According to teachers and school administration, Crescent Harbor has several issues related to overcrowding and the old age of the school buildings, which date back to 1970 and 1958.

On Oct. 8, the Oak Harbor school board approved a $121 million school bond measure for the February 2023 ballot. The bond would fund the building of a new school on the fields next to Fort Nugent Park, rebuild three schools — Crescent Harbor Elementary, Hand-in-Hand Early Learning Center and HomeConnection — and renovate and re-utilize the Oak Harbor Elementary school site.

The Department of Defense is providing 80% of the funding to rebuild the schools. Taxpayers must vote for the bond to cover the remaining 20% of costs in order to receive the federal funding.

At a school board meeting last Monday, Superintendent Michelle Kuss-Cybula said the federal money, which has already been approved to go to the district, will go to another school instead if not spent in five to seven years.

During Tuesday’s visit, Crescent Harbor Principal Kate Valenzuela explained to O’Brien the problems with the school facilities.

“Since 1958 and 1970, the needs of school have changed,” Valenzuela said. “We now have full-time school counselors – that didn’t exist. We now have mental health counseling part time – that didn’t exist.”

Most special education classes are taught in rooms originally designed to be break rooms for staff.

“They’re teaching out of alcoves,” Valenzuela said.

The school has eight portable classrooms due to overcrowding – the largest number of any school in the district. Music classes and occupational therapy are being taught in portable classrooms. The portables are colder than the main buildings and have no bathrooms, which could become dangerous in an emergency or lockdown.

Valenzuela said there is asbestos in the school’s tiling and the gym floor needs to be replaced.

“It’s just not practical to think about doing some sort of a remodel because cost-wise, it just wouldn’t make much sense,” she said.

The kitchen at the school was originally built as a satellite kitchen, so now it is too small and has minimal storage, as well as issues with leaks when it rains.

School board member Nikki Tesch brought up the fact that the school is an important location for the community due to the proximity of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Valenzuela said that last year, 58% of their students were military affiliated. She stressed the importance of providing a safe and predictable learning environment for children who have deployed parents.

“We have the highest poverty (rate) and are tied for highest military-connected and yet our facility is substandard,” she said.

O’Brien said the new school would have to last the district for at least 30 years.

“We have to be respectful of what the local population is deciding,” he said of the February election. “But the beauty is we’re going to be patient. We’re not going to walk away from you guys.”

In February of this year, voters shot down a larger, $184 million bond measure that would have funded construction of three new elementary schools, the learning center and a new transportation center. The measure, which needed a 60% supermajority to pass, received less than 45% of the vote. The new measure will also need a 60% supermajority to pass.

“We do have a challenge ahead of us,” Tesch said.

More information on the bond can be found at