Schools eye fixes to leaky roofs, aging boilers, old tech

LAKEWOOD — At Lakewood High School, the heavier the storm the bigger the puddles in the locker rooms at Dick Cardinal Stadium.

Located below ground, beneath the bleacher platform, water drips through ceiling cracks pretty much every time it rains.

Now, a plan to stop the leaks hinges on what voters in the Lakewood School District do in the special election April 26.

They are considering approval of a four-year, $3.8 million capital improvement and technology levy to cover costs of repairs — such as the locker room leak — that the state doesn’t pay for. The proposed tax will replace one expiring at the end of the year.

“Levies provide us an opportunity to close that gap between state funds and what we actually need to run Lakewood schools,” Superintendent Scott Peacock said in an online community forum March 30. “And it also provides us with an opportunity to fill that gap with priorities of our own.”

A similar story is playing out in the Stanwood-Camano School District. For a second time this year.

Voters are deciding the fate of a four-year, $10.4 million capital improvement levy. The money would come from a property tax of 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, two cents higher than the current levy which expires at the end of the year.

This same measure failed by a narrow margin, 51.6% to 48.4%, in the February special election. The district spans parts of Snohomish and Island counties, and the measure did not garner a majority of support in either portion. However, it was only 35 votes shy of passing in Snohomish County.

After that election, district officials held public meetings to hear from residents on what they needed to do to get a different outcome. As part of its response, the district beefed up details online and in a mailer on where precisely the money would go and why.

“This is really tailored to what we heard the community’s concerns were,” Superintendent Deborah Rumbaughsaid. “We’ve really tried to convey that students are at the heart of the levy. Everything we have identified is intended to serve children.”

“There is still a significant gap between what the state provides and what it costs to provide the services and programs Stanwood-Camano students need and our community expects,” she said.

If passed, half the money would be spent on long-term facility needs and half on technology needs related to student learning.

Water damage on the ceiling at Lakewood Middle School in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Water damage on the ceiling at Lakewood Middle School in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Specifically, it would pay for 1,100 Chromebooks for students each year, expand access to wireless coverage and upgrade security.

On the capital side, money is earmarked for a new roof on Cedarhome Elementary, replacing fire sprinkler lines at Utsalady and Elger Bay elementaries, making playground repairs and stopping leaks into the locker rooms.

“We have a couple of boilers that are in dire need of replacing to keep our students warm,” Liz Jamieson, the district director of capital projects said in an informational video. Those boilers are at Elger Bay and Cedarhome elementaries.

Stacey Birk wrote in an opposition statement in the voter pamphlet that voters should reject the measure and push the district to be more transparent in its use of existing local levy dollars. She also questioned whether some expenditures exceed what is required to provide students with a basic education.

“If buildings, maintenance, and technology cannot be covered by the state’s dedicated capital funds, perhaps it is time to reevaluate how the district spends that income,” she wrote.

A simple majority is required for approval of the capital levies in both districts.

In Lakewood, the money would come from a tax of 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, which is nine cents higher than the current levy. There is a reason.

In February 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, district voters turned down a proposed capital and technology levy with a tax of 26 cents.

Outside Lakewood Middle School where a portion of the roof will need to be replaced. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Outside Lakewood Middle School where a portion of the roof will need to be replaced. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The school board responded by retooling it and trying again in August. It made it a two-year levy. It pared the tax in half, to 13 cents, and pledged all revenues would go to serve emerging technology needs of students and staff, forced to operate in a remote learning environment due to the spread of COVID. They postponed all capital projects.

This year’s proposal would generate $3.8 million, with half for technology and half for deferred maintenance.

It would pay for 2,000 computers for students and 200 for staff in the next four years. Money also would go to expand Wi-Fi access points in schools, provide adaptive technology for special needs students and enhance the technology infrastructure with additional servers, data storage and firewalls.

Dollars are penciled in for replacing a 30-year-old boiler at Lakewood Elementary School which Peacock said is “operating on a wing and a prayer.” There’s money to replace portions of roofs on Lakewood elementary and middle schools. There’s also $600,000 penciled in for added classroom space in the coming four years, probably with the purchase of a couple portables.

Supporters argue the measure would give students resources to be successful in a digital world and ensure they are learning in safe, warm and dry campuses.

“The instructional materials, technology tools and digital resources this ballot measure supports are not extras. They are vital to learning in today’s world,” Jeannie Sahatdjian, a parent and member of Help Educate Lakewood Pupils, said in an email. “Physical safety is essential for our students to be able to learn. All of the technology and facilities needs identified are just that — needs.”

Jeff Heckathorn, who lives within the boundaries of the Everett School District, penned an opposition statement in the voter pamphlet as he has to many school levy measures this year.

“These capital levy items should come out of the General Fund. If salaries were not so bloated this would be possible,” he wrote, adding votes on property tax assessments should not be held in special elections where turnout is traditionally low.

Sahatdjian, a co-author of the voter pamphlet statement favoring the measure, said a “no” vote would take away existing resources that support students.

“Why would we want to now make it harder for Lakewood students to learn and grow? Why would we not make sure our district has the resources to fix leaks, replace old furnaces or make sure crumbling sidewalks are fixed? These basic needs are essential to our students’ growth, to their well-being.”

Ballots returned by mail do not require a stamp. But they must be postmarked no later than April 26. Be sure to check the last collection time on the postal box, because ballots that arrive with a postmark after election day will not be counted.

Another option is to use one of the county’s designated ballot drop boxes. Fifteen of those will be open around the clock until 8 p.m. April 26.

Voters who have not received a ballot by April 16 should contact the elections office at 425-388-3444 or [email protected]

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; [email protected]; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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Schools eye fixes to leaky roofs, aging boilers, old tech

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