Voices of the Valley: Feb. 10 election addresses critical need in Anacortes

Mark Wenzel

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.

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(3) comments

Allen0904

The pro school bond organization refuses to produce a blueprint, floor plan, or even a conceptual drawing of the new facility, commenting that it would cost too much.

They put the cart before the horse- First a blueprint and plans for the building. Next, approval of the school building and plan IF it is not extravagant or excessive. Finally, approval of a bond in a reasonable amount to pay for a reasonable school project.

Refusing to tell us what they want the ridiculous sum of $90 Million (NOT including interest!!) for is a common tactic meant to prevent voters from examining the proposition too closely (from the pro bond steam roller’s point of view).

“Heaven forbid the citizens should see what we are doing- they may vote to reject it and we just can’t have that, now can we?”

What are they hiding????

Allen0904

• I can't believe it: 90 mil? That's over 5000 per person in Anacortes. I don't know how many employed people there are, but I assume that if you divide that amount into 90 mil, it would come to roughly 25 grand (or more) per paycheck earner. MY Heavens- are they installing gold commodes??

Seriously - 90 mil tells me they are going "high end" on every conceivable item to be put in the schools. They are being extravagant. OK- let's build a new school- but let's try to do it for half of that incredibly ridiculous amount!!!!! Better yet update what we have and only build what we absolutely need.

If you HAVE to spend 90 mil- there are many other more pressing needs- how about spending some of that on the roads that we are told are falling apart? In spite of the great need for repair-- all the town can afford to spend on road repair each year is 900, 000-----only one percent -- that's 1% of what the extravagant "educators" want for a BUILDING (AS COMPARED TO MAINTAINING ALL THE ROADS IN TOWN)

I also LOVE the way they want to put extremely expensive ASTROTURF in the sports field- rare for a high school and demonstrative of the School Board's "SPARE NO EXPENSE" extravagant attitude. Why not? The taxpayers are paying-- and "we can get them to do anything we want in the name of education!!"

How about spending some of it on the police- check citydata.com- break-ins are rising quite a bit. A little more security in my own home is a good thing!! How about just leaving tax payers with a lower bill? Many of us are retired and don't have a bunch of extra bucks.

For heaven's sake- I believe in education too- I am something of an academician myself- but please VOTE AGAINST EXTRAVAGANCE !!!!!

Allen Hodgson, Old Town, Anacortes

Allen0904

DON’T BE FOOLED: DEFEAT THE SCHOOL BOND BOONDOGGLE!

Re the school’s condition and need to replace it: bad condition? The worst I’ve heard of are anecdotal instances- a heater that is temperamental, and some roofs that need replacing! NOT 90 mil worth. As is so oft the case with supporters of this boondoggle, the pro bond forces state conclusions without definitive proof. I understand that urgently required maintenance has been neglected because there are only three (3) maintenance workers for the whole school system. So by all means let’s hire another!! But we should NOT spend 90 million to completely build a new boondoggle.

The school district superintendant says “most” community members support the bond. I’m sure they filled a room with their 32 committee members (I wonder how many of which had a personal stake in this? ie: teachers and/or school staff and there relatives and friends). BUT the last I heard 32 biased members of a citizens’ committee (that is in the pocket of the School Board) are NOT a majority. He does NOT tell us how those (obviously biased) members were chosen. The pro bond people are so organized I think we can assume they dominated/controlled the process.

Regarding cost: the pro bond organization speaks to the deceptive mantra that the tax rate is low (as if that is BAD and we MUST drive it up). They fail to broach the reasons- a senior population with few kids and high individual property values, among others- the thriftiness of the School Board NOT being one of them. Instead of addressing the rate- how about just once citing the COST PER STUDENT of this bond. If we have roughly 500 students in high school, this bond means a cost of $180,000 per student. That represents one fifth (that’s 1/5th) of the entire annual roads budget of this town PER STUDENT. This does not even include the operating cost and staff and teacher salaries!!!!

I was a county counsel for Monmouth County, NJ. (pop 650,000) and as such helped to run the government. We took care to provide what was necessary and even more- but we were not extravagant. Our facilities were unsurpassed and award winning- including schools and a junior college. But- we did not let any out of control School Board, Teacher’s Union (or association or the PTA) or any other SPECIAL INTEREST dictate our budget. As a result we had a Triple A Bond rating which further helped the taxpayer.

Folks- this special interest group pushing the bond is highly organized as such groups invariably are. See their signs, orchestrated letters to the editor, control of the citizens’ committee, etc. They are sustained by professionals like the HIGHLY PAID school district superintendant who by the very nature of his job is biased. They are like a steam roller running over any opposition- which is sporadic as the opposition is only composed of individual citizens like me who are often too busy to pay much attention to political matters such as this (a fact the pro bond special interest group counts on).

So don’t be fooled by the pro bond steam roller. Vote NO to the school bond’s extravagance.

Allen Hodgson, Esq. Old Town, Anacortes

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