New school on the ballot in Quilcene

Posted 1/20/22

There’s no better time than now to get started on a new elementary school in Quilcene.

That’s the big message from leaders in the Quilcene School District as they ask voters to support …

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New school on the ballot in Quilcene




There’s no better time than now to get started on a new elementary school in Quilcene.

That’s the big message from leaders in the Quilcene School District as they ask voters to support a $12.3 million bond proposal in the upcoming Special Election on Feb. 8.

The ballot measure, called Proposition 1, will give the go-ahead to build a new elementary school building that will replace the existing Quilcene Grade School. Officials said the old school, built eight decades ago, would be too costly to update.

Money raised by the bond would also pay for a new space for Career and Technical Education, as well as improved athletic fields.

School officials have held a series of meetings to outline the bond and how the money will be spent if Prop. 1 is passed. Ballots for the Feb. 8 measure will be mailed Wednesday, Jan. 19 and another community meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25 at Quilcene Presbyterian Church.

Officials involved with the bond measure said last week that if Prop. 1 is approved, property owners in Quilcene School District No. 48 will see no increase to their current tax rate.

Tax rates will stay the same as the level set when voters approved the two-year levy in 2020 that paid for the replacement of the district’s bus barn and maintenance shops. A 20-year bond to pay for the new elementary school will continue the tax rate of roughly $500 per year for a median-priced property, officials said.

While some in the community have asked if now is the right time to build

a new school, amid rising construction costs and inflation, officials with OAC and TCF Architects, the school district’s consultants for bond planning, noted that interest rates are at all-time lows but won’t stay that way.

It’s a fantastic time to borrow money, said Stephen Murakami, vice president of Design and Construction at OAC, a Seattle-based design and construction performance management firm.

Any rise in construction costs or inflation will be overshadowed by savings on borrowing with lower interest rates, he said.

“The big selling point for this bond measure is: No tax increase,” Murakami said.

“It is a new tax; it is a new bond,” he added, but Murakami noted the district’s move to stay within the levy rate established by the 2020 levy request.

“They worked really hard to maintain that tax rate for this bond program,” he said.

The existing elementary school has outlived its life, officials noted, and the staff face daily challenges of keeping classrooms heated and dry. It needs seismic upgrades, which would prove too costly to complete with the existing building, according to a 2019 study. There are also concerns with the building’s failing electrical system, failing plumbing system, and air conditioning system that doesn’t meet indoor air quality standards.

“The main priority is a healthy and safe environment for our youngest, most vulnerable learners,” Murakami said. “It’s getting career and trades education back into the schools in a real meaningful way.”

Drainage will also be improved on the school’s athletic fields, which will make the fields usable year-round.

The demolition of the existing bus barn also means the campus will lose its Career and Technology Education (CTE) Shop.

“Basically, the bond program ask is to replace the elementary school and then, the CTE and art spaces,” Murakami explained.

A new space for the program will adapt to changes in career and technology education.

“CTE has taken a lot of different shapes when most of us went to school and it was home ec or woodshop or welding. Robotics, computer technology have really taken over. And the cool part of it, CTE has really pushed into formal, certificated programs that go high school and middle school,” Murakami said.

While students will be the ones who get the most from the campus improvements, the school district is hoping others in the community will benefit, as well.

“But we’re also thinking about ways to create a career and technical education space whereby when the students are not using it, it may have the opportunity to be accessible for the rest of the community in a maker space kind of environment,” added Superintendent Frank Redmon.

Similarly, he said, there’s the idea of replacing the weight room that’s located in a portable with a space that’s more like a robust kind of workout gym. That could also be open to the community when it’s not needed for student use.

“The school is the center of our little community,” Redmon said.

“We want to make sure the things we’re doing benefit primarily our students but also have a benefit to everyone in the community,” the superintendent said.

Officials also noted that the existing school garden will be preserved when the new elementary school is built.

The fate of the current elementary school is still in limbo. Parts of the beloved building may be reused or repurposed, if possible.

“We haven’t fully committed to demolishing the existing building. It’s a precious piece to a lot of folks in the community,” Murakami said.

“And this community is really mindful about sustainability and not bulldozing it down and sending it to a landfill,” he said. “And so we’re trying to think really creatively about what we can do with that building and that structure; if we can save part of it; if we can reuse the structure.”

Murakami said the bond proposal is an investment for students today and tomorrow.

“We’re not building Taj Mahals,” he said.

“The intent is to build as economically and efficiently as possible, but make spaces inside to have the magic happen,” Murakami said.

School Board Chair Viviann Kuehl said she’s heard from people who understand the elementary school is well past its prime.

“The community has been really understanding; when we had buckets in the hallways, and kids wearing coats because it was freezing,” Kuehl said. “But now is the time to replace that building.”

“I think they’re looking forward to it,” she said. “I hope so.”