Edmonds School Board updated on capital projects, discusses legislative agenda

Members of the Edmonds School Board meet via Zoom during their Oct. 26 business meeting.

The Edmonds School Board at its Oct. 26 business meeting was updated on the progress of several capital projects and discussed the district’s upcoming legislative agenda.

Director of Capital Projects Ed Peters informed the board that the project to replace Spruce Elementary is currently in its second phase and “the short version is that this project is going really well on time, on budget — we were very busy this summer taking down the old building and doing the earthwork, foundations and utility work for the new academic wing.”

Construction on the nearly $46 million project started in June, and the new school is scheduled to open for students in September 2022.

Peters added that “great progress” has been made recently “despite the fact that there was a carpenters’ strike” that lasted close to three weeks. Contingency plans that sequenced the work being done were developed ahead of the strike “and through a small amount of overtime we’re catching up,” he noted. Concrete slabs for the foundation are being poured and it’s anticipated that the process of putting up structural steel will begin in approximately two weeks.

“We’re absolutely on schedule and we’ll be able to open in time next fall,” Peters said. The construction project has also presented the opportunity to provide basic video lessons for students demonstrating concepts such as how to calculate the volume of concrete being poured and the number of trucks needed to then create the building’s floor.

Director Nancy Katims said, “It really warms my heart to hear that the people who are involved in the building are doing these presentations for the kids and helping to make the connections between real-life and the things they’re studying in school so they see why they’re learning about volume and other kinds of things and how it plays out in the real world – it’s great.”

Peters said the project to replace Oak Heights Elementary has “just begun the planning process, we have formed a design review committee with district and school site-level people as well as some parents.” Their first task has been to review the district’s 2014 educational specification standards for what should be in an elementary school and the committee will also tour three schools that have been built using that framework. In January 2022, he added, “we will start updating that specification for Oak Heights based on the lessons learned” since those 2014 standards were implemented.

“It really is exciting, this is something that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and we really are delighted to have kicked it off,” Peters added about replacing the school.

Current levy funding would allow for Oak Heights construction to begin in summer 2025 at the earliest.

“We think it’s valuable to start the planning process now,” Peters said, because if other means of funding are obtained “we’ll be ready.” In addition, the county planning and permitting process the district will have to go through at the site is “quite lengthy and extensive,” he added. “Besides the normal building permit process there is a special land-use process because that area around the park-and-ride has a special zoning designation and there’s a whole bunch of steps that we have to go through.”

Another project in the planning and design phase is upgrades to the district’s educational services center that include a new roof with drainage improvements, replacing lighting with higher-efficiency LED fixtures, fire alarm system upgrades and installation of a new HVAC system. Peters said that following discussions with the contractor and design team, “it looks like we will be able to do the things that we wanted to do. Despite various supply chain and inflation concerns, it’s all looking pretty feasible.”

Construction work on the $9 million project is anticipated to begin in spring 2022.

The district has also received approval from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction concerning a document that must be completed every six years to remain eligible for the state’s construction assistance funding program. The study and survey document completed will allow both Spruce and Oak Heights elementary schools to receive state funds once those projects are finished. Peters noted that the district is generally responsible for approximately 85% of construction costs under the state’s cost-sharing program.

Peters told the school board that roof replacement projects at both Brier Terrace Middle School and Hazelwood Elementary School are “largely complete.” In addition, several relocatable structures at district schools have recently been moved and installed at their new sites. And a boiler from Spruce Elementary School that still had remaining service life was able to be salvaged and installed at Cedar Way Elementary School.

Director Carin Chase said she would like the school board to engage in future discussions about the possibility of installing solar panels on school roofs and other sustainability measures.

In other business, the board discussed the draft version of its 2022 state legislative platform, which allows the district to communicate to legislators issues important to the district. “I look at this as a living document, that as we have different pressures across the district we can use our position to advocate to our lawmakers specific needs of the district,” Chase said.

Five areas identified as priorities in the platform include transportation, equity in education through updated staffing allocations, levy reform, fully funding special education, and school facilities.

“This kind of a general platform gives us the flexibility to, as our situations change, to bring those specific details into the conversations,” Chase added. “I look at this as a starting point, so that we can have a foundation that we can look at specific bills coming up and bring those specific things about Edmonds forward” to the state Legislature.

The platform states that the current transportation allocation model and funding formula doesn’t adequately support district operations across Washington state, which also impacts students and families. It urges the legislature to address those funding gaps by adjusting the current formula and related reporting.

Concerning staffing allocations, the platform asks the legislature to implement a biennial review of staffing ratios within the funding model and then adjust those allocations as necessary to ensure they support the changing needs of students, staff and families in communities.

Noting that certain school districts are allowed to collect twice as much as other districts per pupil in enrichment levies, the platform requests the legislature adopt a levy model that supports the differentiated needs of students. The current disparity is not tied to the unique needs of students or the costs associated with ensuring districts have the staff and resources to support those needs. It also asks the legislature to mitigate the effects of reduced school enrollment from the COVID-19 pandemic by stabilizing the impact on local enrichment levies.

State investments in funding special education continue to fall short of fully funding those programs, and school districts continue to rely on local levies and/or making cuts in other areas to provide the necessary and mandated support for students. The platform calls for fully funding special education as a means to prevent any further negative impacts on the growth and development of students in those programs.

It also asks the legislature to advance a constitutional amendment that would change the bond validation rate from a 60% supermajority to a 50% plus one majority of ballots cast. In addition, the platform seeks an enhancement to the funding formulas used for student space allocation and construction cost allowance in preschool through high school. Doing so would align education spaces with research-based teaching strategies and actual construction costs.

Director Ann McMurray said she appreciated how the platform succinctly explains each of the areas identified and how those impact the Edmonds School District. “I found this concise and something that can be referenced in greater detail when we communicate with our legislators,” she added. “It just puts kind of the areas that they’re responsible for into perspective as far as our district is concerned.”

Regarding transportation, Director Gary Noble noted that he would like to see a component added for replacing buses with more efficient models. “I really think that they need to provide funding and incentives for district’s to upgrade their fleets to hybrid or all electric,” he said. The depreciation schedule on diesel buses does not support buying them, he added, “and so no school districts are ever going to get any because they buy their buses based on the current depreciation schedule.”

He added that issue could be addressed if the state provided districts with incentives or cost-sharing measures to help them purchase more fuel-efficient buses to replace diesel models.

Several board members said the upfront costs of replacing diesel bus fleets with electric vehicles are quite expensive and would require community support for funding such a transition. Further talks on the matter could be included in future discussions that Chase had earlier suggested concerning the district’s environmental sustainability and efficiency measures.

“I’d like to see a really intentional process towards a climate policy when we are able to do that,” Director Deborah Kilgore said.

Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas added that he could work with leadership to “see what we can do and see the impact on green policies because there is an impact,” as well as associated costs. It would be helpful for the board and community to have a clear understanding of the district’s current efforts and policies before attempting changes to long-term plans and environmental policies.

Chase noted that this was the first time the district’s legislative platform had involved a presentation to the school board. The next steps will include board members conducting further reviews of the document and holding additional discussions at a future meeting before it would be formally approved for adoption and then shared with elected officials.

Also during the meeting, Balderas told the board he appreciated that 99% of district staff have been vaccinated for COVID-19. The district still remains short of staff across a variety of areas, he added, including teachers, paraprofessionals and drivers. The district has shifted resources and staff to help address those shortages until it is fully staffed and continues to explore making further such changes as needed.

“Keep kids in school and keep certified teachers in front of kids, that’s our goal,” Balderas said. “It’s not optimal and we do appreciate the work that everybody has done in the past and this year in terms of different roles other than being in a school setting. But we do know that we’re in very different times and we have to keep adjusting” because of that.

Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen also provided the school board with a COVID-19 update, noting that in the past two weeks, there were 94 investigations of 106 positive or presumed positive cases of COVID; six classroom closures, four of which caused the closure of Madrona K-8 school; and a total of 356 students and 15 staff quarantined.

Assistant Superintendent Dana Geaslen gives the school board a COVID-19 update.

Finally, the board approved a resolution of emergency declaration for HVAC work at Beverly Elementary School. Holmberg Company was hired for an initial investigation of issues with the HVAC system and discovered that the hydronic piping for the heating system was deteriorated beyond repair. As a result, the district recently entered into an emergency contract with the company, in the not-to-exceed amount of $247,267, to begin the necessary work that is anticipated to be completed by the middle of November.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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