SEDRO-WOOLLEY — After two failed attempts to get voters to approve a bond proposal that would allow it to build a new Evergreen Elementary School, the Sedro-Woolley School District is again looking at options to address aging facilities and increasing enrollment.
“The need is getting worse,” Superintendent Phil Brockman said.
Last week, a 14-person committee, comprised mostly of community members, outlined the issue and options facing the district, including the hundreds of new students moving into its boundaries.
The district, which encompasses the city of Sedro-Woolley as well as the Big Lake, Clear Lake, Hamilton and Lyman areas, and also includes Samish Elementary School, is expecting increased growth.
“We’re getting more kids every year,” Brockman said. “It’s a good thing to have enrollment growth, but we also have to address the future. Which is now.”
According to district numbers, enrollment in the past five years has increased by 225 students, with a projected potential of up to about 750 more during the next decade.
“We are busting at the seams,” School Board President Christina Jepperson said.
Already, she said, the district could fill a new school the size of Lyman or Samish elementary schools.
“We knew we were going to grow, but I don’t think we knew how fast or how much until this presentation was done,” she said. “We need to find a place to put the elementary students.”
The district this year added three portable units to its schools, Brockman said, meaning it has about 20 district-wide.
One of the options outlined by the committee would be to move sixth-graders from the elementary schools to Cascade Middle School, similar to what the Mount Vernon and Anacortes school districts have done in recent years.
That, the facilities committee found, would free up 19 elementary classrooms but would not address future growth needs.
“While it helps the space issue, it still doesn’t fix the fact that we don’t have enough elementary space,” Jepperson said.
It would also still require major upgrades to Evergreen — upgrades that may prolong the building’s lifespan by three to five years — and add one portable to Lyman and Samish elementary schools.
According to district numbers, remodeling Evergreen will cost $56 million, while replacing it would cost $49 million — an about $4 million increase from when the district first asked voters to approve the proposal.
A second option would be to build two new elementary schools: a new Evergreen and a new school on district-owned property on Cook Road.
“I don’t think its unrealistic that we would fill two elementary schools,” Jepperson said.”I think the bummer of that plan, the part that the community probably would not appreciate, is that the bond would be about twice what we asked for last time.”
That solution would address capacity issues at the elementary schools, but not at the middle school.
A third option outlined by the committee is to build one new elementary school, move the sixth graders to Cascade and look at future expansion there.
To do that, the district would have to renovate the middle school’s Building B and relocate the staff working there as well as look at how to best add classroom space at the middle school, the committee said.
That option would still require upgrades to Evergreen that would prolong the building’s life by potentially up to five years, the committee found.
Another option identified by the committee is to move the district to a year-round schedule, with students staggering their time in school. For example, students would attend school for nine weeks and then have three weeks off, something done in districts in Hawaii and California, Jepperson said.
In that scenario, the committee suggested, up to 75% of the district’s students would be at school at any given time.
However, Jepperson said, that scenario only works with schools with more than 500 students, which would mean not all of its schools would be able to accommodate that schedule.
“That, to me, does not sound like an option,” Jepperson said.
It would also require additional operating expenses for administrative and custodial work, and would still require repairs at Evergreen, as well as major maintenance needs at all schools, like adding air conditioning.
The fifth option outlined to the board was to build two new schools using portables and prefabricated units.
These days, Jepperson said, some of those units come with running water and electricity and can act as standalone buildings.
The district is exploring an option that would build a central gymnasium and lunch room, with between four and six “pods” around it — two-story modular classroom structures that would each house 12 classrooms.
“That’s intriguing,” Brockman said. “I think the school board is going to take a good look at that. There’s lots of modules that are out there that are really nice.”
Still, he said, while those units may last for 30 years, they are not a permanent solution.
That option could be a more affordable solution, Jepperson said.
It would allow the district to ask voters to approve a capital levy instead of a bond proposal, she said. Levy proposals have a lower threshold for voter approval, but do not include state-match funding for buildings.
The committee also looked at other options — including morning and evening sessions where about 50% of students would attend at each time — but it did not recommend them to the board as feasible options.
The board will continue to study the options, Brockman said.