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Whatcom schools are building new projects totaling $240 million; here’s where they’re going

Nooksack Valley Middle School "Hoosier" gym getting major remodel

The Nooksack Middle School gym, built in the 1940s, will be gutted and enlarged. The wood from the bleachers will be reused as trim in the new school.
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The Nooksack Middle School gym, built in the 1940s, will be gutted and enlarged. The wood from the bleachers will be reused as trim in the new school.

Many Whatcom County K-12 students will be learning in new or renovated digs before the end of 2017 as districts move forward with nearly $240 million in projects.

Five of the county’s seven districts have major projects that have reached the construction phase or will start work before the end of the year: Bellingham, Blaine, Lynden, Meridian and Nooksack Valley. The school-related work adds to what likely will be a busy year for contractors.

$237.7 million Total cost of school-related capital projects in Whatcom County that have reached the construction phase or will start work before the end of 2017

Here’s a roundup of current and impending education-related projects.

Bellingham

Bellingham Public Schools plans to complete a new Options High School in time for use next school year. The project broke ground last summer. The district also plans to break ground on a new Sehome High School before the end of this school year, and is installing new play fields at some high schools.

A $160 million bond passed in 2013 is funding all three projects, said Ron Cowan, the district’s executive director of capital projects and school facilities.

The $21 million Options project will replace a set of portables that once housed the school at 2015 Franklin St. The construction cost of the project increased by nearly $500,000 earlier this month when delays set the scheduled completion date back to October. The project is back on track to be completed on time, Cowan said.

The new Sehome building will go just south of the current school at 2700 Bill McDonald Parkway, Cowan said. The estimated cost is $73 million, and officials hope to complete it by August 2019.

The current school was built in 1966.

“It’s tired,” Cowan said, “which isn’t that surprising when you think of 1,100 kids going through the building for 50 years.”

The new school will be a contiguous two-story building as opposed to the current “California-style” school, which features several buildings spread across the campus. The change means the new building will be safer, Cowan said.

The district also plans to install a new turf field for football and soccer practice at Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave. Work is expected to begin in April, and the field is expected to be complete by the fall.

Squalicum High School’s new turf field, also for football and soccer, was completed last fall, and Sehome will get a new field when the new building is completed, Cowan said. The new field at Bellingham is expected to cost about $2.5 million, and will be covered by the same 2013 bond.

Fall and winter rain made the schools’ original grass fields difficult to play on, Cowan said.

Blaine

Blaine High School students are also getting a new building, using $38 million of a $45 million bond passed in 2015. The three-phase project includes erecting new buildings and remodeling existing ones, said Ron Spanjer, Blaine School District superintendent.

The work will be completed by the 2019-20 school year, but students will begin using the new spaces as the individual phases wrap up, Spanjer said. The work is in its first phase, which will be completed in August.

“It’s our belief that when we start to transition into the new buildings, the excitement will far outweigh any inconvenience over the next few years,” Spanjer added.

Blaine High School, 1055 H St., was built in the 1970s with low-cost construction, and isn’t suitable for the school’s technology and arts programs, among others. Voters rejected bonds for the work in 2008 and 2011 before passing one in 2015.

Lynden

The Lynden School District began work in 2016 on two new schools to replace the aging Fisher Elementary and Lynden Middle schools. Fisher was built in the 1960s, and parts of Lynden Middle date back to the ’30s, said Superintendent Jim Frey.

The cost of both projects is about $64 million, Frey said. Information on how that cost is split between the two schools was not available. Voters approved a $48 million bond in April 2015, and the state will contribute $16 million, Frey said.

Since breaking ground on the new Fisher building in July 2016, crews have been building it around the old one at 501 14th St. The middle school, now at 516 Main St., will go on a different site on Line Road, near the intersection with Mercedes Drive.

The new Fisher Elementary is expected to be completed in time for next school year. The middle school is expected to be ready for the following year.

Meridian

The Meridian School District’s home-school support program, the Meridian Parent Partnership Program, or MP3, will find a new home on a lot adjacent to the district’s office on West Laurel Road.

The program is currently housed in the old Ten Mile Creek Elementary building on the Irene Reither Elementary campus at 954 E. Hemmi Road.

Vacating that space not only will give the program its own campus, but also will allow Irene Reither classes to expand, said Superintendent Tom Churchill. The program had been giving up at least one classroom per year to the elementary school, which has grown by about 50 students each year for the past few years, Churchill said.

The new campus will be outfitted with five classroom portables and a restroom portable for a total of 10 classrooms, Churchill said. The $2.2 million project is funded entirely out of the district’s capital projects fund.

The district plans to install the portables in May and have them ready for students sometime in late June, Churchill said.

Nooksack Valley

Nooksack Valley School District is building a new Nooksack Valley Middle School and is making major renovations to Nooksack Valley High School. The middle school project is expected to cost about $23 million; the high school renovation has a projected cost of $14 million, said Superintendent Mark Johnson.

A $28 million bond passed in 2015, and a state match of $11 million will cover the projects. The bond and the state match also helped pay for four classrooms added to Nooksack Elementary School. That project was completed during winter break.

The middle school, 404 W. Columbia St. in Nooksack, was built in 1947, said Principal Joel VanderYacht. Replacing the aging building, he added, was about as cost-effective as renovating it. Work on the middle school began in July and students have moved to other parts of the building as sections are demolished.

“As far as the education of our students, they’ve noticed the difference just in terms of flow and where they can go and can’t go,” VanderYacht said. “But in terms of teaching and learning, everything has gone on just like it would every other year.”

The middle school is expected to be ready for students next year. Demolition of the middle school is likely to be completed in October, Johnson said.

The high school, 3326 E. Badger Road in Everson, was built in 1954, and had become difficult to maintain, Johnson said. The renovation will bring a new fitness center to the school; fitness equipment currently has a home on the stage in the school’s gym.

The school will also get a newly renovated career and technical education facility. The school’s counseling and administration offices will also be replaced.

Students have moved to other parts of the school to accommodate the renovations, Johnson said. The work is expected to be completed before next year’s classes, he added.

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

District projects by dollars

Five Whatcom County school districts have nearly $240 million worth of building projects that have reached or will reach the construction phase before the end of 2017. Here’s what they all cost and how they’re being paid for.

Bellingham

  • New Options High School: $21 million
  • New Sehome High School: $73 million
  • Bellingham High School turf play field: $2.5 million

All projects are covered by a $160 million bond passed by voters in 2013.

Blaine

  • Additions, renovations to Blaine High School: $38 million

Covered by a $45 million bond passed by voters in 2015.

Lynden

  • New Fisher Elementary and Lynden Middle schools: $64 million for both

Covered by a $48 million bond approved by voters in 2015 and a state match of $16 million.

Meridian

  • New Meridian Parent Partnership Program campus: $2.2 million

Covered by funds from the district’s capital projects fund.

Nooksack Valley

  • New Nooksack Valley Middle School: $23 million
  • Nooksack Valley High School renovations: $14 million

Covered by a $28 million bond approved by voters in 2015 and a state match of $11 million.

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