Earlier in the month the Board had a Work Session on BEX IV. Here are some highlights and commentary.
The beginning of the meeting saw staff go over the input from the BEX IV community meetings. It was surprisingly thin. All that was said was that there were 510 oral and written comments and that Option #2 received the most yes votes (although I later saw the numbers and it was close between #2 and #3). Director Martin-Morris had to ask about how this informs the Board what the community is thinking on this issue. Pegi McEvoy said that info in was in a Friday update that had been published two weeks prior.
Here's a link to the webpage on the community meetings for BEX IV.
Head of Capital Building projects, Lucy Morello, said they would be carrying over some major maintenance from BTA III. This puzzles me. I thought we had a separation of BEX and BTA precisely so that each has its own discrete area. This goes to the issue of co-mingling of these funds and projects and never been able to properly account for these monies.
I wish BEX IV would be as pure a capital levy as possible. I take out any major maintenance and any academics. There was no academic component in the last BEX.
Director Smith-Blum asked about the money set aside for Memorial Stadium. Ms. Morello said this money is to redo the press box and put in some ADA updates. This work had been in BTA II and was deferred. It would be great someday to redo Memorial Stadium but at this point, upkeep is about all that can be done. To keep in mind, Memorial Stadium serves as the home field for those high schools that do not have their own fields for both football and soccer games (as well as graduations).
Director Smith-Blum also asked about a line item for wireless for schools - was that for only the schools on the BEX IV list or all schools? The answer was all schools and she was very happy to hear that.
Director Carr asked about advertising at the stadium and Pegi McEvoy said that that was a separate discussion around scoreboards. (And indeed, it did come up at last week's Board meeting.)
Director Smith-Blum asked about "green" technology and building, pushing for solar panels on our new buildings. She said the district shouldn't miss an opportunity to get this kind technology in and it could be leveraged with deals through City Light. (Director Patu asked about having solar in an area with a lot of rain and it was explained that even here, it might be worth doing.)
Director Martin-Morris spoke up and said he was "nervous" about this new figure for BEX IV at $734M and wanted to get the figure down to $650M. He said he wanted to balance the need versus winning over constituents. Ms. McEvoy agreed and said they were looking for ways to drive it down as well.
Director Carr also echoed those remarks, again saying (as she has in the past) that they need to make their case and show due diligence on how the district arrives at the final figure.
There was then discussion around the cost per square foot per child (which I found out is a different number than just square foot building cost). Ms. Morello said that our average is about $132 per sq foot and the national is $124 and admitted SPS has been higher and they are trying to bring that number down. Director Smith-Blum said it was an opportunity to look at design specs and saw that other districts spent about $100. There was some back-and-forth here over that low cost being in warmer places. Sherry said that many schools in the West don't have inside corridors (true) and they don't have a gym or cafeteria (I think mostly false - when I was growing up in Arizona we hardly ever ate outside). They may not have a gym but they do have cafeterias.
Director Peaslee asked about anticipated growth and how to not overbuild, wondering aloud if there were a way to use temporary structures.
Then Ms. Morello said something a bit startling which was that they had saved $27M in BEX III and BTA III. If this is true, then between this pot of money and the Community Schools money, there is $60M in capital money. This could be put to great use so I'll have to ask about what this can be used for in the district.
Another interesting thing Ms. Morello said is that the district "self-nominates" for landmark status. I'm not sure if that is preemptive to the City doing it or what. Mann and Cedar Park may get that status.
There was some back-and-forth about needed lot size and couldn't we build more if we go up rather than out.
Smith-Blum and Martin-Morris had a bit of back and forth over the size of a viable K-8 school, with Kay worrying over "shooting ourselves in the foot" if the cohort doesn't expand at 6th and offer more programs that students want. Jane Addams would likely be about 1,000 sudents.
Director Peaslee worried aloud about where the Native American program would go if not at Wilson-Pacific. As well she noted that Middle College also needed to be sited. (There were many Middle College supporters at the last Board meeting who are very worried about their program.) Last was the siting of the Home School Resource Center (which I believe has been renamed but I can't find the new name).
Then there was discussion around the downtown elementary school. I have seen figures at the Downtown Association website and the district is apparently trying to put their own figures together. It may be the case that there are open seats in the region (like at Lowell and Madrona k-8) but that the need might be more in the QA/Magnolia region.
Kay and Sherry both were firm in their belief that this school should probably go into BEX V. Kay offered that even if the district had the money for a building, there is no land (and none had been offered). She said that what could happen is to have a "condo" school. Meaning, lease some space in one of the new buildings going up at SLU and roll-up a school grade by grade.
I see this as a great idea because by the time you would get to nearly K-5, we'd be at BEX V and this project could be first on the list. It would really make the Downtown Association look like heroes to support this levy AND put themselves onto the next BEX. Sort of that united front/planned growth look that voters might like to see.
Pegi McEvoy pointed out that Vancouver, B.C. had an elementary school downtown but it took them 13 years to get it going. Sherry stated that planning should proceed but that her skeptism was that this was for downtown to use as marketing to sell condos. (Note: they would have to start building actual family-sized condos to get people with kids to buy them.) She said there were too many needs, in all directions, in this district for this to happen.
Kay also expressed doubt over the need to reopen TT Minor if there was capacity at Lowell and Madrona. She also said something odd about opening a foreign language immersion program downtown and attracting people outside the area. I think whatever they do, the school downtown has to be for resident kids there before anyone else can get in.
Kay was also worried about World School having to go down two regions to Columbia while Meany is being renovated versus going to TT Minor which is nearby. (Update: it seems that Smith-blum was talking about housing the Central area kids at TT Minor and not World School. I know what she said so this confuses me so I'll have to ask her about it.) The district thinks they will need TT Minor later. They all said they were waiting for June enrollment numbers to guide their decisions.
Director McClaren said that Nova would rather be housed at TT Minor rather than Mann. McEvoy said that it was a timing issue because they needed to move Nova into Mann and that would be before TT Minor is ready. Director Smith-Blum thought Nova was better sited at Mann as Nova students could access Garfield's offerings down the hill. McClaren said that there were also 200 potential World School students throughout the district who might want to be at the World School if it had a true high school to graduation program. Moving the World School two regions away just as they are rolling out 12th grade is not helpful to building a strong school. World School needs to stay in a Central location period.
There was then a discussion around Arbor Heights and its many issues. Pegi said that they cleaned up the water and mold from the latest broken pipe. (They had gushing hot water for two hours into one of the kindergarten rooms. You can imagine the mess and the disruption at the school.) In regard to Arbor Heights unhappiness with being at the end of the BEX IV timetable, McEvoy said it might be possible to move them to an interim site before their rebuild. One issue, that comes up frequently with renovations, is that like other sites, Arbor Heights will need pilings shored up.
Director Patu brought up that there had been some discussion at Van Asselt over possibly moving back to their old site. The issue is that the AAA building is hard for some students, especially Special Ed, to navigate and, as well, the old site afforded the opportunity for a garden. Morello said they could look at that but the population had grown and couldn't all fit in the main Van Asselt building (there two buildings on the site, on considerably older than the other). However, many Van Asselt student live nearer the old site and, as well, with VS being in the AAA building, they are uncomfortably close to Wing Luke.
The last item that I was there for was a page explaining how the backlog of maintenance would go down if this levy were approved by voters. This is somewhat true but the issue remains that (1) we are adding on new/reopened buildings all the time and (2) the district MUST maintain its buildings or that backlog will just build up again. If we spend $100M on a high school, we have to respect the investment voters have made and keep these buildings up.
One issue that I missed hearing the discussion about was the under/over capacity projections. The presentation had many pages about these possibilities. It would be terrible for the district to overbuild. That would really put their credibility on the line in the future so they have to find that sweet spot between relief for overcrowding now, growth in the immediate future, and any flatline or rollback of growth beyond that.
A couple of days later, there was the BEX Oversight Committee meeting.
Director Smith-Blum chaired this meeting and she is interested in having a competition for university students to think of innovative ideas for school buildings particularly around green issues. It is NOT for them to win the ability to design a building but rather, think of new ideas that might be incorporated into the design of a new building.
It was an interesting discussion as these professionals had a lot to say about "passive" design which is orienting a building properly on a site so as to maximize things like sunlight, drainage, etc. The point was made that the cost of building is a much smaller cost over the lifetime of the building than is a sustainable building (the cost of operating it).
It was suggested that in terms of building and finding the right balance, that the district could use boundary changes rather than building to solve problems. This is true; you can juggle boundaries more easily BUT that ease comes at the feet of families.
One committee member made the statement that enrollment projections are "program agnostic" and that parents think of programs as institutions but the district think of them as way to guide property management.
We can think about what BEX IV is shaping up to be in another thread and an important question I would like for you to consider is - how do we sell BEX IV to taxpayers? Because saying "it's for the kids" is not going to sell it this time. Do you think having both levies come in UNDER $1B would matter to voters?