By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“If you care about your community, if you care about your schools, then you should vote yes,” said Dave Mattingley of Citizens for Sequim Schools, a private group advocating passage of the bond measure.
The district is asking voters on the April 22 ballot to approve construction bonds to build a new elementary school, extensively renovate and remodel the high school and two existing elementary schools, and build a new athletic complex.
Ballots will be mailed to registered voters in the Sequim school district April 2.
Tax bill fears
Some of the nearly three dozen people at a community forum at the Sequim Prairie Grange Hall on Friday night expressed worries about the hit the bond measure would have on their tax bills.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re not voting for it because of the expense,” Bob Clark said.
“It’s just a big number to think about putting on our tax bills every year.”
Clark, a native of the Dungeness Valley, said the measure would add more than $1,000 a year to his annual tax bill.
If approved, the bonds would add approximately $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to the property tax bills of landowners in the district, which has a total assessed property value of $3.7 billion.
Jeff Killian also worried about the impact of the bonds on the tax bills.
“We have an awful lot of retirees here,” Killian said. “They don’t have any real income, and I worry about the burden this will put on them.”
School officials agreed the request is expensive but said the district’s existing school buildings are deteriorating, unsafe and growing more crowded.
“That is a big number, and we know that,” Superintendent Kelly Shea said. “But we also have a big list of things we need to do.”
The measure would raise $140 million for a new $28.5 million elementary school to replace Helen Haller and an $87 million remodel of Sequim High School, as well as $16.5 million for expansion and modifications to Greywolf Elementary, $8 million to remodel Hellen Haller for Olympic Peninsula Academy and other alternative programs, and $1 million repairs to the Sequim Middle School roof.
It also will pay for a $1 million new transportation shop and $9 million in upgrades to the district’s athletics complex.
Other expenses include demolition of the present Community School building and the original Helen Haller, and the purchase of 3 acres west of the middle school.
If the measure passes, a new elementary school probably would be ready for the 2016-17 school year, the remodeled Greywolf for the 2017-18 school year, the remodeled high school for the 2018-19 school year and a remodeled Helen Haller ready in 2019.
Debt to be retired
The district’s voter-approved debt will be retired at the end of this year, Brian Lewis, the district’s business manager, told the grange hall crowd, taking 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation off the current tax rate.
A 44-cents-per-$1,000 levy approved last year to replace half the district’s bus fleet also will expire at the end of this year.
That would leave only the $1.61 maintenance and operations levy on property tax bills.
Lewis said the 20-year construction bond would bring the total tax rate to district landowners to a maximum of $3.85 per $1,000.
In response to Killian’s concerns about the tax impact to retirees, Lewis noted that Clallam County offers property tax exemptions for seniors with limited incomes.
Lewis said the school is expecting rapid growth in its student population over the next several years, which would compound the problem of not having enough space for students.
“Our elementary schools are packed,” Lewis said.
Sequim has 1,130 students in its elementary schools now, he said.
With the implementation of all-day kindergarten classes in 2015 and a mini-baby boom of children born in the district over the past five years, Lewis expects that population to grow to 1,400 by 2020.
Shea added the district’s facilities currently present a number of security concerns.
“We have 54 doors that open to the outside at the high school,” Shea said. “There’s no way we can keep eyes on every one of those.”
Open designs of Helen Haller Elementary and Sequim High make it difficult to control who enters the campuses, as does the dual-entrance at Greywolf Elementary, where the main office does not have a view of the front doors.
“We had a guy come in to Greywolf, walk right down the hall, sit down and plug in his phone,” Shea said. “And we had no idea he was there.”
Clark asked whether the district had prioritized its list of projects in case the bond measure fails.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you whether we need a new elementary school or a new high school more,” Shea said.
Shea added that favorable interest rates and anticipated increases in construction costs drove the decision to seek the whole amount now rather than ask voters to approve each project individually.
“We think it’s smarter to do it now than it is to try to prolong it any longer,” Shea said.
The school district has planned several more upcoming forums about the bond measure.
Forums will be in the Sequim High auditorium, 601 N. Sequim Ave., at 4 p.m. March 25 and 7 p.m. April 8.
For more information, phone the district office at 360-582-3260.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.