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Building ‘no longer supports’ education

Thu., Dec. 31, 2009

Bond would help replace Medical Lake Elementary

Cindy McSmith, principal at Medical Lake Elementary, says she has to use a pair of pliers to turn on the heater in her office. The old contraption doesn’t work well and parts are hard to find. The heater is just one of the problems at the school, which serves children in preschool through third grade.

“This is a building that really no longer supports providing an education for children,” McSmith said.

Medical Lake School District is asking voters in February to approve a 20-year, $15.6 million bond to raze the elementary school, add six classrooms to Hallett Elementary to serve students in preschool through fifth grade, and add 12 classrooms, a gymnasium and a common area to Medical Lake Middle School for students in sixth through eighth grades.

The bond would cost taxpayers $0.72 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

McSmith said Medical Lake Elementary was built on an old Nike missile silo site in the 1950s. The silo was removed and the ground is still settling, causing the land to buckle – there are doors that fit in their frames during summer months, but in the winter, the gaps between the doors and the frame can be as large as an inch and a half.

There is no fire-suppression system in place at the school; there are alarms, but the building will not support putting new pipes in for a sprinkler system.

The electrical system has been a concern for school staff as well. Since there is no cafeteria, students must eat in their classrooms and the kitchen staff brings the food with its ovens and heaters to each wing of the school for different lunch times. The act of plugging in the ovens overloads the system and the power often goes out. Staff must flip the circuit breaker in the hallway.

“It’s just the way we live,” McSmith said.

Some teachers have to coordinate what electrical equipment they are using at certain times during the day. If one teacher needs to run a PowerPoint presentation in her classroom, she must check with the teacher next door to see what he is running to avoid blowing another circuit.

The tile on the floor is slowly disintegrating, and custodian Dave Brown must do some asbestos abatement when he patches the tile.

Brown also spends many hours fixing leaky faucets. McSmith said many faucets are always dripping.

The district has floated a bond to voters twice before – the last time was in March 2008, when the district asked for a $19.5 million bond to build a new elementary school. Voters would have paid $1.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value, but the bond was only approved by 52 percent of the voters. School bonds need 60 percent approval, a supermajority, to pass.

“We’ve given up on a new building,” said Pam Veltri, superintendent of Medical Lake schools.

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