(Parent volunteer working with student at end of AH’s long hallway connecting portables)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In less than an hour, Arbor Heights Elementary supporters plan to rally outside School District headquarters in SODO – in advance of the School Board’s next meeting.
At that meeting (4:15 pm start for board business, 5 pm for public comment), the Board is scheduled to consider the formal introduction of the latest draft of the BEX IV levy, a project list totaling almost $700 million.
It includes a plan to use levy money to build a replacement for AH Elementary – more than 60 years old and falling apart – but not until 2018 (moved up one year from the previous draft, as reported here yesterday), while the district is using levy money to open other new schools as early as 2015.
This morning, School Board president Michael DeBell visited Arbor Heights to see its dilapidation firsthand and listen to the eleventh-hour plea from second-year principal Christy Collins and two members of the Arbor Heights parent community.
He agreed that Arbor Heights’ condition is a “critical situation,” but made no commitments to change where it stands on the BEX list. Ahead, see some of what he saw, in a tour that began at the stairs from SW 104th to Arbor Heights’ front entrance.
Collins told DeBell along the way that almost three dozen families who toured Arbor Heights before this school year opted to go elsewhere – and when she surveyed a sampling, they all cited the building. Starting out on the street, she pointed out it has no parking lot,which raises safety issues for everything from bus dropoffs to staff and parent parking, and a neighborhood-congestion problem before and after school (We saw it firsthand as we arrived at 9 am to cover DeBell’s visit)
Some safety problems come with labels:
The asbestos warning is in coat closets throughout many classrooms – and while the district says they’ve handled the problem, according to parent Elise Olson – who along with Collins and fellow parent Darci Severns led the tour – they have no proof, and, she says, in most rooms they’re not used.
A major wing of the school is all old portables, fused together with a very long hallway of cinder-block walls. Two of the school’s problems can be seen along that hallway:
The paint continues to peel – with layers of lead paint likely beneath – because of a water-drip problem. And if you look up at the top of that photo, you will see wiring installed not by the district, but as part of a project by now-retired teacher Mark Ahlness, meant, among other things, to get some Internet access – which for various reasons is not centrally available for AH.
Back to peeling paint. It’s also one of the problems with a bathroom visited during this morning’s tour:
The sinks clearly showed their age, and one was running water that could not be shut off during our visit. Water trouble also proved legendary in a classroom:
That’s teacher Alisa Weaver, who spoke at the BEX meeting at Madison Middle School last month, telling the story of what happened in that closet – a broken pipe that flooded her classroom during the school day. Photos from that day are tacked up inside the closet door:
The problem with the pipes cannot be fixed, we were told, so they are not sure what will happen during the cold-weather season this year.
Even if they are not related to pipe problems, windows and doors are a challenge around the campus:
That door might look OK to you. But because it has no glass, it has to be kept open, Collins explains. The school would have to pay $300 for each door that needs glass – and doesn’t have those resources. She told DeBell that the Arbor Heights demographic is in a challenging place – not low-income enough for extra support funds, not high-income enough to be able to generate large sums of money at fundraisers. And then there’s the simple issue of waiting for maintenance work:
That’s an old-fashioned rusty chain-link door, with perilous protrusions, that opens into the indoor playcourt – a dark area that Collins said ruefully has the nickname “the jail”:
Here’s what it looks like indoors (the mural was painted by volunteers in 2011, to try to brighten it up; the area also is used for storage):
And the outdoor playground has challenges too – it’s almost entirely asphalt, with sunken areas that transform into “Lake Arbor Heights” during rainstorms:
Along the way, while listening to the concerns voiced by the principal and parents, DeBell expressed sympathy, but made no promises. He said there are two alternate financing mechanisms by which the district might be able to move up the work (one of which involves about $20 million in proceeds from selling no-longer-needed school properties) – but reiterated that there are many challenges around the district.
What happens next? We’ll find out during the board’s 4:15 pm meeting; one week from today, there’s a 4 pm session, also at district headquarters, for public comment on the BEX IV list; then at the board’s next official meeting on November 7th, a final vote is expected.
No decision on other funding for accelerating Arbor Heights – or anything else – can be made until after the levy passes, DeBell warned, since the money that would have to be borrowed through other financing mechanisms would have to be paid back with levy proceeds.