For years, working across the street from the decaying Sequim Community School, then-teacher John Bridge heard comments from SCS staffers.
“We don’t have enough buckets,” they said.
By the start of next school year, Sequim’s schools won’t be carrying much of the heavy cost of keeping the school open.
In a unanimous vote Monday night, Bridge and other school board members agreed to close about 80 percent of the Sequim Community School and move several district programs to other school buildings.
“It’s not an easy decision [but] it’s good to move forward,” school board president Sarah Bedinger said.
Constructed in 1950, the building opened as an elementary school before being transformed into a middle school in 1979. After Sequim Middle School was built in 1998 on Hendrickson Road, Sequim Community School became a home for various school district and community programs.
Even before a facilities committee recommended a school closure in 2008, district officials had considered shuttering at least part of the 71,000-square-foot building, noting its leaky roof and exorbitant heating costs.
School officials estimate the closure would save Sequim schools about $75,000 per year.
Five years ago, Bridge was on a committee assigned to determine the fate of the multi-purpose school, trying to solve an essential question: How can the district modify the school to be cost-efficient?
“The answer is, you can’t,” Bridge said.
In recent months, board members agreed the district needed to take action on the community school issue, hosting several community meetings and opening up discussion at numerous regular board meetings.
“We couldn’t [close it] right away because we couldn’t find a place for everybody,” Bedinger said. “I don’t know how much more methodical we could have been.”
On Monday night, with a sparse crowd in the audience, board members sealed the school’s fate.
The plan is that by September the Olympic Peninsula Academy will be the lone district program at the Sequim Community School, housed in a circa-1979 addition and the school’s commons area.
“Our hope is to have that up and running by the start of the school year,” Bentley said.
The district’s developmental preschool, which serves about 25 students, will be moved to Helen Haller Elementary while Sequim Alternative High School classes, serving about 30 students, will be moved to two classrooms above the high school auditorium. Special Services staff will be moved to the administration building.
The school’s kitchen and adjacent gymnasium would remain unmodified.
Programs such as Head Start, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Snap, First Teacher, Peninsula College’s GED and English Language Learners programs would be searching for new homes.
Modifications to the community school and the high school auditorium, where a reception area is planned, are needed to accommodate OPA and Sequim Alternative High School classes, at an estimated cost of $300,000.
The school district will hold a required hearing, at the Feb. 6 school board meeting to discuss a non-voted debt of that amount. A “non-voted” debt, as opposed to one approved by voters, is repaid from the school district’s general fund rather than from property taxes.
The district plans to repay the debt over five years using money saved on utility costs by the closure of most sections of the community school.
By March, the district hopes to see quotes for the construction projects, Bentley said.
By April or May, the superintendent said, students and staff may see some initial construction.
“We’d like to get a running start,” Bentley said. “I’m convinced we won’t have it done if [we start] in June. We’re under a time crunch. We’re going to move as quickly as we can.”
The board also: