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Blaine’s $45M school bond has no money for school sought by Birch Bay residents

Student Zack Fijal, 17, center,  squeezes between students Spencer Kragseth, 18, left, Jeremy Vanbuskirk, 17, and Caleb Hudson, 17, right in the courtyard locker hall at Blaine High School on March 9, 2011.  Blaine School District residents will vote on a $45 million capital improvement bond in Februrary 2015 to to renovate Blaine High School and add classrooms at Blaine Primary School.
Student Zack Fijal, 17, center, squeezes between students Spencer Kragseth, 18, left, Jeremy Vanbuskirk, 17, and Caleb Hudson, 17, right in the courtyard locker hall at Blaine High School on March 9, 2011. Blaine School District residents will vote on a $45 million capital improvement bond in Februrary 2015 to to renovate Blaine High School and add classrooms at Blaine Primary School. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

While a Blaine School Board decision flashed hope for a new elementary school in Birch Bay, the school likely would be built more than a decade later than many residents would like.

The Blaine School District is sending out a $45 million, 20-year bond to voters in February 2015 that does not include property acquisition for a Birch Bay elementary school. On Monday, Oct. 27, the school board passed a resolution that promises to seek separate funding for a Birch Bay school only if the bond is approved, but Birch Bay residents say this could delay construction of a new school for at least 15 years.

“The resolution really does nothing to promote an educational facility in the next few years,” said Doralee Booth, a representative from the Birch Bay community.

The bond proposal includes money to build eight full-day kindergarten classrooms at Blaine Primary School, something Booth said could further delay construction of a new Birch Bay school. Although residents asked to eliminate those additional classrooms from the bond proposal, the board did not put it to a vote at the Oct. 27 meeting.

Most of the money in the February bond, which will 60 percent voter approval, would be used to renovate Blaine High School. The additional kindergarten classrooms would cost $4 million.

Previous bond proposals in 2008 and 2011 that were voted down included the acquisition of property for a Birch Bay school. Ron Spanjer, Blaine School District superintendent, said funding for a Birch Bay school was left off this bond because past projected enrollment growth at Blaine schools did not occur.

“We’re a ways away from defining the need for a school in Birch Bay as an urgent issue,” Spanjer said.

Projected enrollment at Blaine School District was expected to increase by 600 students in the last decade, but actual enrollment numbers went down since the 2004-05 school year, from 2,235 to 2,120, according to the school district.

The enrollment numbers are a net total of students in the school district, however, and do not reflect growth in different areas of the district. Birch Bay is the fastest growing urban growth area in Whatcom County, and nearly 60 percent of Blaine students come from the Birch Bay area, according to the community’s website.

All the Blaine schools — primary, elementary, middle and high school — are located within Blaine city limits, except the primary school in Point Roberts.

If the bond is passed in February, Spanjer said voters would have to separately approve the dollars to build the new school, and the district would have to find a way to afford to operate the school once it’s built. He said there would need to be around 400 students at the potential school for the district to replicate the programs it already has in place, and right now the total enrollment numbers in Blaine would not support that.

Booth said a Birch Bay school would create a greater sense of community and eliminate long bus rides for students.

“I think that this issue is not going to go away for Birch Bay because it’s a needed facility,” Booth said. “We hope that the school district would consider changing their mind.”

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