School district looks to future infrastructure needs
school district superintendent Dr. Mary Lynne Derrington
gathered a group of community leaders last summer to
begin studying how the school district can be ready with
the appropriate facilities to serve growing numbers of
students as the area continues to grow.
“It’s a very serious question,” Derrington said, “because the cheapest way to deal with growth in numbers is to anticipate, to be ready for increasing numbers when they show up. Otherwise, before you know it you’re crowded and forced into short-term and expensive solutions. It’s hard to catch up when you start out behind.”
The trick is knowing just exactly how much to build, when and where, she said, “because you can’t just react to this development over here, or that one over there. You have to figure out what’s going on over the long haul, so we looked out over the next 15 years and have also hired a demographer to make estimates that are continually up-dated about population trends in the area.”
The Blaine school district currently has a staff of 250 serving 2,200 students. John Fotheringham is the demographer, or statistician, who studies population trends. In 15 years he expects the total district student population to grow by 800 students to 3,000. The high school, built for 700 students a little over 30 years ago, now has an enrollment of 740 and in 15 years will have 1050 to 1060 students.
The 16-member group, officially known by the prosaic title “Facilities Study Committee,” reached several conclusions in their monthly meetings. The next new school building should serve both primary and elementary students (kindergarten through the sixth grade) and be located somewhere in or near Birch Bay, an area that is currently home to about half the students in the district. This would help create room on the present 38-acre campus to expand the high school, the most pressing current need. Since the high school population is expected to be over a thousand in fifteen years, new facilities when built should accommodate 1,200 students for future expansion.
Though Blaine is able to serve the students it now has, Derrington said that this was in part because some creative solutions had been found. “For example, when we re-modeled the middle school with our last bond we were able to convert what had been locker room space into classroom facilities.”
Derrington said that there are ominous signs that Blaine’s close to reaching capacity in the high school. “Some teachers are roaming, which means that they move from place to place where classrooms may be available rather than stay put. That can be hard to do after a while.”
The high school also shares a cafeteria facility with the middle school as well as band and choir rooms. “We won’t be able to share the cafeteria when we reach 1,000 students,” Derrington said.
The committee felt that the high school needs to stay where it is since, as committee member Sylvia Goodwin said “one high school is cheaper than two.”
Facilities manager Jim Kenoyer said that the present design is like those popular in California 30 to 40 years ago, a kind of modular style with external hallways and a lot of different doors and entrances. He said he’d prefer to see fewer entrances and a more unified design.
The second most pressing need is for transportation, meaning the care and feeding of the growing fleet of 25 school buses plus other rolling stock such as vans. Kenoyer said that the two-acre bus garage is about full, and when planned new units arrive this year and next, “Then that’s it,” he said, giving credit to transportation supervisor Carl Wagelie for working in such crowded conditions.
Facilities that the school gives over to community use are also seeing more activity. The Pipeline Fields, Kenoyer hopes, will be able someday to tie into city water and sewer “to support the 250 to 300 kids per week that use the place,” he said, ticking off such programs as youth baseball and a number of soccer teams that use the fields. The football stadium also sees heavy use from Blaine’s six football teams plus six periods of physical education per school day plus use by other groups such as the Boys and Girls Club football program.
To plan for all this “We look at scenarios,” Derrington said, “such as realigning the grades to keep the middle school small when we have two primary and elementary schools.” Currently Blaine is divided into primary (grades K-2), elementary (3-5), middle (6-8) and high schools. Derrington said a better alignment might be to have two K-6 schools, a middle school with only two grades (7 and 8) and retain the four-year high school.
“Each class is growing two to three percent each year, which means some of them get to be 30 to 35 percent bigger when they get to high school, which is why there’s such a pinch coming there,” said Derrington, “but to keep a handle on this we update the projections frequently.”
As far as details on the new Birch Bay school are concerned, Derrington declined to get specific. “We’re saying with this committee that we see growth coming, and what does it look like from here and what are the first steps we’re taking to get ready for it,” she said.
Kenoyer said there are some general considerations for siting a school, such as the need for about 20 acres, utilities, convenience and so on, “but we’re just in the talking stage with all that right now,” he said.
The committee was chosen as much by the role as by the person, as Derrington said she wanted people who have both deep knowledge of Blaine and daily experience in key roles in the district. So, for example, “I asked both City Manager Gary Tomsic and Police chief Mike Haslip,” she said, “because to do their work they have the kind of in-depth understanding of Blaine we need.” It also includes several administrators and the entire school board.
The members of the new committee are: Sylvia Goodwin, Mike Kent, Gary Tomsic, Louise Mugar, Randy Elsbree, Jerry Bladies, Mike Haslip, Don Montfort, Jim Kenoyer, Mike Dodd, Pebble Griffin, Barrie Hull, Red Goodwin, Todd Berge, Fotheringham and Derrington.