The Feb. 10 school bond election is an important one for Anacortes.
The poor condition of the high school has been a longstanding issue in the community, and I’m excited about the positive response we’ve received from residents regarding the need to address this problem. In dozens of community meetings and on recent high school tours, participants have expressed a belief that the school requires urgent attention in terms of infrastructure, learning environment and safety.
Most community members have also expressed appreciation for the thorough process that the district has undertaken to develop this proposal. The process involved a 32-member facilities committee from across the community meeting over eight months to examine a 300-page facilities audit, tour the high school, examine research on facilities and learning, scrutinize cost and taxes and make a recommendation. I’m grateful for the time these community members invested in the process.
In regard to cost, the proposal includes 100,000 square feet of new construction, including classrooms, science labs, career and technical (vocational) education areas, digital media center, cafeteria and the school office. It also includes major renovations to the high school gym and auditorium and a major upgrade of the fields below the school. The proposal was based on deficiencies identified in the facilities audit.
In developing a project scope, the committee approved a list of specific improvements in the auditorium and gym, in addition to the new construction. Those improvements included electrical and mechanical systems, seismic retrofits, bleachers, plumbing, roofing, auditorium seats, turf and lights. The district did not conduct a full schematic design, which would lead to detailed drawings, because the projected cost was at least $500,000.
The district felt it would be fiscally responsible to wait until bond passage to invest in such a process.
A professional cost estimator reviewed the scope of the project and walked through the building to get a firsthand look at needs and listed improvements. The estimator, from a firm that does about 200 estimates on public and private projects a year, used a detailed database of schools built in Western Washington in developing estimates.
She accounted for specific bidding conditions in nearby communities, included contingencies and considered inflation throughout the construction process. She also added architecture and design fees, sales tax, permitting, prevailing wage and all the other considerations that go into public works projects. The cost estimating took about 40 hours, as she followed a rigorous data-driven process to get the most accurate numbers possible without a full design.
The committee recognized that the estimated total project cost of close to $90 million was significant, but concluded that investing in a long-term solution made the most sense. Interest rates are at near-record lows, and construction costs will only rise with time. Further, committee members took into account a retiring bond in 2016, which will lower the increase in property tax with passage of the new bond.
State matching funds are expected to cover $2 million of the cost, and the district received a generous private donation of $1 million from the Jeff and Linda Hendricks Foundation to further offset bond costs. The total new bond at $86.9 million will be $1.14 per $1,000 valuation, but the increase will be just 58 cents per $1,000 valuation because of the retiring bond and the large industrial tax base in Anacortes. The committee reasoned that an annual increase of about $200 in property taxes for a $350,000 homeowner represented a rational request.
The endorsements for the proposal — organized by the Citizens Committee — cover the gamut of the Anacortes community: Chamber of Commerce, Arts Festival, Island Hospital doctors, Senior College, local Realtors, firefighters, Noon Kiwanis, Parks Foundation, Soroptomists of Fidalgo Island, Fidalgo Island Rotary, PTAs and more. Support for public education in Anacortes runs deep.
The new school is expected to open in 2018. It will be an exciting event for the Anacortes community. The district’s website, asd103.org, has a 15-page report that details the process and budget. Readers are also welcome to contact me. We look forward to addressing this critical facilities need as we work to create a world-class education for the children of Anacortes.
– Dr. Mark Wenzel is the Anacortes School District superintendent.