Parents, community gather to oppose potential Larrabee closure

'It is a heritage we cannot throw away'

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 9, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Parents and community members rallied at Larrabee Elementary Wednesday, May 8, to have their say before the Bellingham School Board makes a decision on whether to close the school.

More than 100 people, most of them opposed to shutting down the 93-year-old school, crowded Larrabee's gym Wednesday evening for a public hearing before the board. Outside the school before the meeting, members of the Coalition to Save Larrabee held a rally.

"People are happy to go here," said Barbara Perry, who lives nearby in Happy Valley. "They have a lot of energy to try to keep it open, all of them do."

The district Facilities Planning Task Force recommended the Larrabee closure to Superintendent Greg Baker in February, in addition to a variety of other district building projects over the next 10 years. Baker endorsed the closure in April, but the school board must vote to approve the closure before it's official. The board is expected to hold that vote at its meeting Thursday.

Several of the people who commented at the meeting urged the board to consider the full impact of closing the school, on the students, the families and the neighborhood, before making their decision.

"Larrabee is the heart of this community," said Larrabee parent Analiese Burns. "It is a heritage that we cannot throw away."

The exact date for the potential closure hasn't been decided, though it would be at the end of a school year between June 2014 and June 2016.

In its rationale for closing the school, the district cited the cramped building and small lot as big problems. The school is home to 189 students, with seven classrooms inside and fifth-graders in a portable classroom behind the school. The district's goal is to have two to three classes per grade level at each school to allow for teacher collaboration. At Larrabee, there is room for only one classroom per grade or combination classes of grades. The lack of space also affects what kind of additional programs the school can offer, according to the district. Expanding the school wouldn't be practical because of its small lot - 1.3 acres, the smallest in the district.

But for most of the parents and community members who spoke on Wednesday, the school's small size is what makes it such an asset. Teachers are still able to collaborate, there is a wealth of involved parent and community volunteers and there is a robust after-school enrichment program, they said.

"Small schools are a benefit for students," said Shirley Forslof, whose granddaughters go to the school. "Teachers get to know them better. They're not lost in a crowd. It becomes more of a community because it's a small school."

If Larrabee closes, the school's students would be split between nearby Lowell and Happy Valley elementary schools. The task force also recommended rebuilding Happy Valley on its current site and doing some remodeling at Lowell to accommodate the additional students.

The district is still discussing how the school building and property could be used in the future if the school is closed.


IF YOU GO

The Bellingham School Board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 9, in the District Office board room, 1306 Dupont St. A vote on closing Larrabee Elementary School is on the agenda.

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com. Read her School Days blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/schools or follow her on Twitter at @bhamschools.

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