News

Schools have big plans for voters

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools could be coming to voters in the near future with an ambitious proposal to replace or upgrade several buildings.

District officials have a good idea which buildings need the most attention the soonest, but it’s still preliminary how this will get presented to voters.

The School Board has a work study on the issue scheduled for next Monday. The board is responsible for deciding if the measure will go to voters and be one large bond or a series of smaller ones.

A few things are known:

• Money from bonds will pay for most of the proposed work.

• Approval of the bonds will require a super-majority of voters (60 percent).

• School officials say several of the buildings need significant upgrades or should be torn down and rebuilt from the foundations, as is the case of one high school.

Superintendent Tom Murphy wants the community to weigh in on the idea. He and the district’s finance chief, Sally McClean, were at a meeting of Citizens for Federal Way Public Schools last Thursday, explaining the reasons for the proposal. The community group has run campaigns supporting past district bonds and levies.

Murphy hopes to have a price tag for the new proposal by the end of March.

About eight months ago, he directed his staff to gather information about which buildings –– schools and non-instructional facilities –– needed work or replacement. There were two considerations: First, were the buildings in good physical/structural shape? And second, were they adequate for the instructional needs of students and staff today and in the future?

Those buildings were put through a formula that included costs to replace or repair and upgrade.

Many schools and support buildings are approaching the end of their useful life, Murphy said, adding all were considered safe from a structural viewpoint.

In the case of Federal Way High School, the useful life might have ended a few years ago.

The oldest high school in the district, it has had additions and remodels stitched to it over the years. Almost 40 entrances from the outside pock the building, making it a safety concern and not a blue-ribbon winner for energy conservation –– and a candidate for being razed, according to officials.

Over on South 320th Street, the transportation facility –– the bus barn –– is too small for the sixth-largest school district in the state, according to officials. The buildings were constructed with inexpensive materials, and it shows, said Rod Leland, the district’s facilities director.

Additionally, more than 100 buses pour out onto 320th every day from one driveway. It’s a busy street, and the city wants to punch the road through the property to 14th Avenue South and South 312th Street as part of its comprehensive plan. The municipality doesn’t own the property but will either buy it in the future or new development will pay for the road, said Rick Perez, the city’s traffic engineer.

Either way, it’s cramped for the district, and a road running through the property will make it unusable, said district officials.

Steps have been taken to purchase land near City Hall. If that proceeds, district officials see putting several support services, including the buses, on the property. That might also include the district’s kitchen, which is currently part of Federal Way High School.

Along with possible renovations and replacements, district officials are considering some ideas that have been topics of community interest around town.

One is having a performing arts center as part of a new Federal Way High. It’s been on the wish list of many citizens for years, and Murphy thinks this may be one way to see that wish come to fruition.

And fans of the district’s recently defunct Outdoor Education program might see a resurrection at the new middle school. That school, which is being built nearly across the street from Lakeland Elementary School, uses a small portion of the acreage it sits on. District officials are considering proposing some of the land for an outdoor program and, possibly, a retreat center.

This is as much a community bond issue as it is a school bond issue, Murphy said.

School districts putting large capital bonds before voters to renovate several buildings is not new.

Tacoma School District has been in the process of renovating several schools or building new ones recently. Stadium High School in the north part of Tacoma is temporarily closed, and most of its students are using the district’s old Mount Tahoma High School. A few have transferred to Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way. The old Stadium, which originally was a hotel, has been gutted to the exterior walls. Outlying buildings have been demolished and are being replaced.

Students at the old Mount Tahoma High moved into their new school last year.

Patti Holmgren, a spokeswoman for Tacoma’s schools, said the district has several of its buildings slated for major overhauls in the next few years. It’s all part of the district’s long-term plan to keep buildings updated and repaired, she said.

Many districts across the country are presenting large bonds to voters and planning expansive capital projects to renovate or replace old schools after years of minimal maintenance, said Bob Denton, who does facility assessments for 3D/I, a Houston, Texas-based consulting company that works with school districts nationwide.

The move to renovate K-12 educational facilities is even being taken on at the state level. Several states, including Ohio, are in the midst of plans that have all districts in the state being renovated or rebuilt, he said. Some are under court order to do the work after being sued by the districts.

Tackling capital projects on a districtwide level rather than school-to-school has economic benefits, Denton noted. A district can buy materials in large quantities, have greater leverage negotiating contracts with suppliers and contractors, and buy several of the same products and reduce costs.

If, for example, a district bought the same heating system for all of its schools, it would have one inventory of replacement parts to stock. Additionally, the district’s maintenance staff would need training for repairing one heating system, he said.

But each district is different, Denton added. Federal Way will have to decide what it is most comfortable with.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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