Bellingham elementary schools will face changes in 2014

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 22, 2013 

BHAM BOND FOLO

Kindergarteners Kayleigh Finnegan, 5, left, and Mira Adams, 6, look at Mira's lunch in the Lowell Elementary School cafeteria Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. The school, approximately 270 students, is getting a new cafeteria and gym building.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - One elementary school will open, another will close, and planning and construction are set to start on some of the projects on Bellingham School District's $160 million bond, making 2014 a busy year for Bellingham schools.

The biggest changes in the district next year will be at elementary schools, with Larrabee closing at the end of the school year and Birchwood set to open in the fall. Also, renovations will begin at Lowell Elementary and planning will start for projects at other elementary schools.

The renovation and construction projects will be paid for by a $160 million bond passed by voters in November. Starting in January, the bond will add about 49 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to a homeowner's property taxes, adding about $122 to the tax bill for a home assessed at $250,000.

The bond tax rate will decrease each year after that, settling to about 26 cents above the current rate by 2019.

Here's what's in store for the district in 2014, according to Ron Cowan, assistant superintendent of finance and operations:

- Larrabee Elementary will close at the end of the school year in June. The School Board voted to close the 93-year-old school in May 2013 after a facilities planning task force recommended the closure as part of its 10-year plan for the district.

The school's approximately 185 students will be split between Lowell and Happy Valley elementary schools starting in fall 2014. An attendance area committee will release its recommendations on how to split the school's students, and the district will host meetings in January about the new boundaries.

- A new Birchwood Elementary will open in fall 2014. Birchwood closed in fall 2011 and construction began on the new school in summer 2013. In late January, the district expects to release updated boundaries for Birchwood and other schools that were affected while it was closed.

- Renovations at Lowell Elementary will be the first bond project to start construction in 2014. The school will get an elevator and a new gym and cafeteria. The old gym and cafeteria will be converted into space for three classrooms. The new gym and cafeteria will be built north of the existing school.

The plan is to finish by fall 2015, with the gym and cafeteria conversion scheduled for summer 2015, while the students are out of school. The renovations are expected to cost $6 million.

- Work to redesign Happy Valley Elementary begins in earnest in 2014, with education specification and design advisory committee meetings beginning as early as next spring. Construction is expected to start in late spring 2015, with the new school scheduled to open in fall 2016. The project is expected to cost $19 million.

- Committee work for the Sehome and Options high school rebuilds also should start in 2014. Work on Options will begin in 2015 to get rid of the portable classrooms that now comprise the school and replace them with a permanent structure on the same Franklin Street property. The $21 million project is expected to be complete in August 2017.

The $73 million Sehome rebuild isn't expected to be finished until August 2019.

- The planning process will begin to replace sports fields with turf at Squalicum and Bellingham high schools. The turf fields are expected to cost $5 million.

- The planning process will begin for work at Parkview Elementary, where a $4 million renovation will create a separate gym and cafeteria.

- Some of the district's safety and maintenance projects will start in 2014 as well. The district is trying to get state grant money to match bond money for energy upgrades at some schools.

The district also likely will be writing a grant in collaboration with Bellingham Police Department to use technology to gain quicker response time for police at schools. Those updates could be as simple as one-button systems to alert police when something is wrong at a school.

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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