Spanjercites need for Birch Bay school

Published on Thu, Mar 22, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Spanjer cites need for Birch Bay school

By Jack Kintner

Blaine’s superintendent of schools Ron Spanjer gave what he called a program report to the Birch Bay Transportation, Public Safety and School Committee last Thursday evening, providing a snapshot of the district but leaving one of the more pressing questions unanswered.

“We just don’t know yet where we will build a new Birch Bay elementary school,” Spanjer said, “but one is certainly needed.”

He began by showing how both enrollment and the district’s budget are growing at a rate that’s been consistent for the last 10 years and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Despite the squeeze this puts on facilities, student achievement remains strong, he said. Blaine’s current high school sophomores (taken as a group) currently meet or exceed the basic Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) criteria in math, reading and writing.

Next year’s seniors will be required to individually meet the standards in order to graduate, and this year’s freshmen (class of 2010) will also have to qualify in science.

Spanjer cited the impressive amount of advanced placement courses (12) and students (131) at Blaine high school, much more than any other district in the county and something that has made Blaine a model for other districts throughout the state, especially small ones.

“These courses keep our academic leaders on campus,” Spanjer said, “and when finished a student can take a qualifying exam that if passed grants credit from virtually any college in north America.”

Enrollment increased by about 300 students since 2000 and is projected to go up another 400 by 2013. The general fund budget has gone up from just over $14 million in 2003 - 2004 to $19 million this school year.

Enrollment in kindergarten through the fifth grade has increased 7 percent in the last nine years and is expected to continue, reaching a projected 1,169 students by 2015. The high school, Spanjer said, has grown 53.4 percent in the same period.

“We are projecting that we will reach [an enrollment of] 900 students at the grade 9-12 level by 2015,” he said, adding that the existing high school was built to accommodate only 500 students.

Continued strong population growth will require more than just a new school in Birch Bay, Spanjer said. The long-range facility committee, made up of both district staff and community members, has also identified projects at the main campus and at the Pipeline fields that, taken together with the new Birch Bay elementary school, would total a little over $60 million.

The facility committee has requested that the superintendent review this information with multiple community groups over the next two months.
The committee plans to reconvene in early May, review the feedback collected and forward a recommendation on to the board for consideration.

The board hopes to raise the needed funds with a capital projects bond that could go before voters in the spring of 2008.

The new K-6 elementary school in Birch Bay, projected to be up and running in five years, will cost an estimated $22 million, and as yet no site has been chosen.

School board member Pebble Griffin, who lives in Birch Bay Village, said that it’s “proving to be a little more difficult than we expected,” but could not go into detail as the district’s negotiations for property acquisition are not made public.

A $30 million bond the school board is looking to put on the next ballot would fund renovation and expansion at the high school would include space for the music program, a high school cafeteria and more classrooms.

An additional $4.6 million would fund growth related capital project issues that include playground projects at the primary and elementary school, one of which would convert the primary school’s covered play area into classroom space, expanded cafeteria space, more space for buses at the bus barn, increased parking and office space at the district office and upgrades to floor surfaces and special education space at the middle school.

Finally, the committee recommended $3.9 million in improvements to the Pipeline Fields complex and the Blaine stadium.

“Forty-six percent of Blaine high school students and 54 percent of Blaine middle school students participate in organized athletics,” Spanjer said, adding that the community itself makes heavy use of the same facilities as well.