BELLINGHAM - The end of Larrabee Elementary School is now official, after the Bellingham School Board approved the closure at its meeting Thursday, May 9.
After a long discussion and many questions for district staff, the board voted 4-1 to close the 93-year-old school, with Scott Stockburger voting against. He also made an unsuccessful motion to delay the vote for six months to provide more time to meet with the Larrabee community.
"It's evident the community is not on board with this, and I think we've got some work to do to get them on board," he said. "I think we run a big risk of alienating that community."
Although the other board members approved the closure, they said the decision was a difficult one.
"I walked away and struggled with this all day long," board member Steve Smith said, referring to Wednesday night's public hearing. "I think the harder vote is to close because my heart would want to keep it open."
Four Larrabee parents and community members spoke - all in favor of keeping Larrabee open - before the board voted. After the vote, several expressed frustration at the process the district used to come to the decision to close Larrabee.
"I feel like they totally ignored the community," Larrabee parent Michell Remley said. "They discounted us as emotional parents and we presented facts. We did our homework."
The district has yet to decide when the school will close; it could be at the end of the school year, either June 2014, June 2015 or June 2016. What will happen to the school after the closure is still up for discussion.
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 board had to approve the closure to make it official.
The school's age and condition and the limitations of its small size were factors in the district's decision to close Larrabee. Happy Valley, Lowell and Larrabee elementary schools are within a mile of each other, and the schools struggle to have enough students to have consistent class sizes, according to the district. When Larrabee closes, its students will be split between Lowell - where some remodeling is planned to accommodate the additional students - and Happy Valley, which the district hopes to rebuild.
At a public hearing hosted by the board on Wednesday, more than 100 community members and Larrabee parents gathered to tell the board what makes Larrabee special and why the school should remain open. They described the school as a family, where its small size is an asset because teachers know all the students' names and parents are highly involved.