If the Port Townsend School District's plans work out, the start of school at Salish Coast Elementary shouldn't be delayed by more than five days, and with any luck, the students shouldn't have to make those days up at the end of the school year.
That was the message from Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm, when he and other school district officials answered questions from an audience of roughly a dozen attendees at the Port Townsend High School Auditorium on Aug. 30.
Polm began his remarks by recounting how delays in getting the Salish Coast Elementary building and campus ready in time for the original Sept. 4 start date for the school year were caused by members of International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302, going on strike.
“There were pickets at Salish Coast for two days,” Polm said. “And when there are pickets, union workers can't cross the line.”
However, Polm reported that Salish Coast's teachers have since been able to move into their classrooms and start unpacking their supplies, and added the school district has applied for a five-day waiver to the Washington State Board of Education, which he said he was “optimistic” would be approved.
If approved, this waiver would allow a delay of up to five days at the start of the school year, without requiring those days be added back onto the end of the school year.
In the meantime, Polm explained the district has sought out the assistance of the YMCA, the local libraries and area churches in providing day care and other activities for children whom parents had expected would be in school by Sept. 4, and promised the district would act as a “conduit of information” about these and other developments.
“The work on these projects usually goes right to the wire, every time,” Project Manager Kirk Robinson said. “We were right on track to open on time until the strike occurred.”
Robinson nonetheless echoed Polm's prediction that the start of school for Salish Coast shouldn't be delayed past Sept. 11, even as Robinson emphasized the care with which city officials are examining the facility to ensure it has clear, safe exit paths before they offer their official approval.
“There's going to be a lot of activity at the school, this weekend and next week,” Robinson said at the meeting Aug. 30. “It's already being transformed daily.”
Salish Coast Elementary Principal Lisa Condran praised her teachers for coming together “as a community,” and supporting one another through gestures as simple as helping each other unpack.
“Yesterday was our teachers' first day in the building to unpack,” Condran said at the same meeting. “Today was the first day their rooms actually looked like classrooms.”
Condran noted professional movers had been retained to assist the teachers, so none of them would strain their backs or exhaust themselves before the start of school.
Because the structure of Salish Coast Elementary encourages more carpooling, bicycle riding and parking at a distance from the school, Condran pointed out there would be no less than four crossing guard spots, in the mornings from 7:35 to 8 a.m. and in the afternoons from 2:30 to 2:45 p.m.
When asked if families would have a chance to check out the interior of the school building before the new start of school date, Polm said he honestly didn't know, while Condran referred parents to letters they'd received from the district earlier, which included maps of the school, with their own children's classrooms indicated.
Polm was able to reassure another parent that recess areas would be available to students by the start of school, which Condran described as bigger than the previous playground areas of Grant Street Elementary, and when asked about the gymnasium, Polm said, “It's already ready,” before joking he wanted to be the first one to make a basket in the basketball hoops.
By contrast, the grounds have yet to be completed, with Polm explaining they hadn't planned for the play fields to be usable until the spring anyway, and estimating work on the courtyard would wrap up by mid-November.
And while schedule changes will affect recess periods, Condran pledged to retain the same amount of recess for every student.
Polm denied rumors that contractors or construction crews would receive bonuses for completing their work on time, although he did acknowledge that the effort to get everything done as soon as possible had incurred overtime hours, the exact cost of which he has yet to quantify.
Although parents in attendance asked if they could help the teachers get ready for the start of school, Robinson explained that only teachers, administrators and construction personnel are allowed inside the building until the city has signed off on it.
While construction work will continue after the start of the school year, Polm noted the on-site machinery would be sectioned off, and Robinson promised no work would be done while students were in the building, nor would such construction work run afoul of neighborhood noise ordinances in the evenings.
When one attendee suggested going with non-union labor, Polm emphasized the importance of maintaining the school district's “working relationships” with the unions, and a question about possibly penalizing the contractor prompted Polm to recall that part of the contract protects contractors from retribution in the event of labor strikes.