Bellingham School Board candidates disagree on bond, Larrabee closure

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 17, 2013 

2013 elections

MCT

BELLINGHAM - The biggest issues dividing candidates for a Bellingham School Board position include a $160 million bond set to go before district voters on the November ballot and the scheduled closure of Larrabee Elementary at the end of this school year.

Incumbent Steve Smith, 50, and challenger John Blethen, 70, answered a questionnaire from The Bellingham Herald on key issues facing the school district.

The two disagreed about the merits of supporting the bond. If passed by voters on Nov. 5, it would pay for a $73 million rebuild of Sehome High School, a $19 million rebuild of Happy Valley Elementary School, a $17 million renovation of district offices and improvements to Lowell and Parkview Elementary schools, among other projects.

Blethen agrees both maintenance and work on new schools need to happen within a timely period but would rather see the existing technology levy and bond get paid down first.

"By waiting it would have given the community a better chance to see in depth where their dollars are going," Blethen wrote.

Blethen also noted he would look closely at the bond money that would be used to build synthetic turf fields at three high schools.

"We have a great facility at Civic Field, just resurfaced with taxpayer money," he wrote. And "while the field is heavily used, it appears to accommodate the three schools."

Smith fully supports the bond, stating project and financing costs will only continue to increase with time.

"The choice is to make these investments now or to wait until later," Smith wrote.

"The cost of building Sehome and Options High Schools and Happy Valley are likely to increase along with the financing costs," he wrote. "Waiting does not make these required and necessary investments go away."

Smith supports the synthetic turf, as the current grass sports fields at the high schools are unusable during much of the year. The synthetic turf would allow year-round use.

"The new fields... will also be available for physical education classes, marching bands and community recreation," Smith wrote.

The two candidates also disagree on the closure of Larrabee Elementary set for June 2014. On the recommendation of a Facilities Planning Task Force, the school board voted 4-1 in May to close Larrabee.

Smith was one of the members who voted for the closure. He cited the school's inability to effectively accommodate student needs as a primary reason the board voted the way it did.

Blethen said the closure is premature. Larrabee students will be split between Lowell and Happy Valley elementary schools after the closure. Those two schools will be in construction mode if the bond passes, and that could make it hard to keep kids out of portables, Blethen wrote.

MORE CANDIDATE INFORMATION

To see responses to various issues from these and other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot, go to our online voter guide.

This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Other articles are at BellinghamHerald.com/elections.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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