Arlington School District may float $107.5M bond in 2018

A new Port Middle School is among the projects on the district’s wish list.

ARLINGTON — It’s time.

That’s the message from an advisory committee studying classroom space and the condition of buildings in the Arlington School District.

It will be up to the Arlington School Board to decide whether to follow that recommendation, which is to place a $107.5 million bond measure on the ballot in 2018. The board was briefed on the proposal Monday.

The big ticket item would be a $72 million replacement of Post Middle School, which is four buildings with exterior walkways. The district says the layout poses a security problem.

There is room to build on the campus without interrupting learning. The edge of the school also would be farther from a hillside than the existing one, which is 50 feet away and has been deemed a moderate to high risk for a landslide, according to one state report. A more recent geotechnical report paid for by the district has found the soil conditions are stable, but that report recommends any new school be built at least 100 feet from the edge of the hillside.

A panel of district employees and people from the community has studied options for Post, including renovation. The consensus has been it would be a better long-term investment to build anew rather than trying to retrofit what’s there.

The school doesn’t meet standards for fire or earthquake safety, and is not energy efficient, according to the district. The building lacks the types of spaces and features needed for modern science, engineering, art and technology classes.

The bond proposal also addresses projected enrollment growth in the district of 5,400 students.

These days, Arlington High School serves about 1,600 students, but larger classes are in the pipeline.

“With the number of kids in elementary on their way, we are going to have an additional 360 more students by 2024,” said Brian Lewis, the district’s executive director of operations. “We won’t be able to fit them all. We are trying to get in front of this need for classrooms with this bond proposal right now.”

The high school expansion would include adding an eight-classroom addition to the C Wing. When the school was built after the 2000 bond measure, plans called for eventually building the extension. The addition would accommodate classes geared toward science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. Another addition would include space to build sets for drama productions as well as for an extracurricular robotics program.

A new Post Middle School would add capacity for 50 more students, increasing enrollment to 800. There would be room to expand beyond that in the future.

The bond also would pay for classroom amplification systems at all of the district’s elementary schools. That would provide better acoustics to allow students to hear their teachers no matter where they sit in a classroom. Every school in the district also would have new entry systems aimed at bolstering security. Visitors would be routed into the main office at a school where they would show identification before doors would be unlocked.

Since September 2016, a 27-person committee has been meeting monthly, revisiting work it started several years ago with the drafting of a master facilities plan.

There is an element of timing to the proposal going before the school board.

The current bonds passed nearly two decades ago will be paid off by 2020.

By the district’s calculations, the overall tax rate between bonds and operation levies should drop from $4.93 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2017 to $3.76 per $1,000 in 2019 if the bond passes next year. Average property values rose by 11 percent in the district this year, Lewis said

Bond measures require a 60 percent “yes” vote compared to a simple majority for an operations levy.

A draft of the ballot measure is expected to be presented to the school board at its Oct. 23 meeting.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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