BELLINGHAM - The possible closure of Larrabee Elementary School and a rebuild of Sehome High School were hot topics at the first public forum of Bellingham School District's facilities planning task force, Monday, Dec. 3.
About 40 people, including parents, teachers and several Sehome students, attended the meeting at Sehome to comment on the task force's ideas for district projects over the next decade.
Those ideas include rebuilding Sehome, creating a permanent home for Options High School, updating or rebuilding the district administrative office, closing Larrabee and sending the students to a renovated Lowell and a rebuilt Happy Valley, updating the district's transportation center, and doing preventive maintenance to maintain facilities and reduce energy use.
Community members broke into groups with task force members to discuss those ideas and to share their concerns and questions. The potential closure of Larrabee was one of the most talked about items.
Parents and teachers at Larrabee said they like the school's small size and the closeness that comes along with it; the school has a sense of community and the students feel known. They worried that if the school closes and the students move somewhere else, that might be lost.
Most Larrabee students walk to the school, and people at the forum didn't think that would be feasible at new, larger Happy Valley.
"I'm a firm believer in small schools," said Larrabee teacher and Sehome parent Jennifer Pittis. "I like getting to know each family really well, each student."
Though Larrabee's possible closure was the most emotional issue for her, she was excited about the rebuild of Sehome and finding a permanent home for Options High, which now operates in seven portables behind Bellingham High.
Others at the meeting agreed and wondered when they would be able to give design input for Sehome.
Happy Valley parent and PTA co-president Samantha Faris was excited about the prospect of rebuilding the elementary school, although she was also sympathetic for the Larrabee community.
"I know how hard it is if they close a school," Faris said. "I feel for the Larrabee people."
The task force will meet again in January to update its recommendations based on public input before passing it to Superintendent Greg Baker. In February, Baker will use the recommendation to form a plan that he'll present to the community for more input.
The district could seek a bond issue as early as next spring for as much as $139 million to cover the projects, although that amount could change as the plan changes.
Bellingham School District's facilities task force is seeking comment on its recommendations for the district's 10-year facility plan. The task force will host three more public meetings to explain the plan and to hear concerns, questions and suggestions from the public.
- Wednesday, Dec. 5: 6-7 p.m., Whatcom Middle School cafeteria.
- Thursday, Dec. 6: 6-7 p.m., Shuksan Middle School cafeteria.
- Monday, Dec. 10: 6-7 p.m., Fairhaven Middle School cafeteria.
More information about the ideas, and a survey, are online at bellinghamschools.org. The district will take input online through Dec. 14.
Reach ZOE FRALEY at email@example.com or call 756-2803.