Artondale Elementary School, the Peninsula School District’s oldest building, was built in 1959, and it’s half of the discussion that will be part of voters’ decision when they weigh their options on Proposition 1 on Nov. 5.
The school district has put a four-year, $50 million capital levy measure on the general election ballot, and it says $22.5 million would go to replace Artondale.
If voters approve the levy with a simple majority, another $22.5 million would be spent to build a new elementary school near the YMCA in Gig Harbor North. The rest would go toward safety and security measures, as well as upgrades to athletic fields.
School district officials say Artondale has a damaged roof, a sinking foundation, security issues and out-of-date plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems.
As ballots are about to be mailed to voters, rumors have circulated regarding widespread mold and air-quality issues, the possibility of the roof collapsing, among others.
Ernie Elton, the school district’s director of facilities, said the rumors are not true.
“(There is) absolutely not (any chance of the roof collapsing),” Elton said. “We did have a couple pieces of sheeting that had rotted. We replaced those when we did upgrades. Whoever is saying these things needs to get their facts right. We have made repairs. Every time it leaks, we take care of it.”
Jerry Gibbs, who leads the group that’s opposed to Proposition 1, said the school’s needs aren’t as dire as some have stated.
“The roof needs to be stripped and replaced, but that building doesn’t need to be torn down,” Gibbs said. “It just needs to be maintained. I’m not seeing a lot of money being spent on school maintenance.”
Elton said the problems aren’t going away, and replacing the roof would be very costly. In addition, he said it would be yet another temporary fix for a building that is at the end of its life.
“Once it gets to a point where it’s so old, the cost analysis doesn’t pencil out,” Elton said. “You’ve spent more money on a remodel than you have; it just doesn’t support what’s going on today.”
The school’s sinking foundation can be seen in one of the classrooms, where the floor is literally sloped as a result. Gibbs wondered if the district had considered consulting with a company that re-levels and raises sunken concrete.
“We asked if they had a structural engineer out to assess why it’s sinking, and they said, ‘No, we can’t afford that,’ ” Gibbs said. “They did slabjack the sidewalk, but they have no estimate on the foundation.”
Elton pointed to a recent study and survey that scored Artondale a 45 out of 100 and deemed it in need of being replaced. Elton said fixing a small section of the foundation would ignore the larger issue at hand.
“Our study, when we did our facilities review, said we were going to replace the facility, so we’re not going to spend $100,000 to replace one portion of the building,” Elton said.
Rumors regarding mold and air quality concerns also are unfounded. A 2012 study from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department concluded there were no such problems.
Another issue that faces the roof is its proximity to the ground. Teenagers reportedly get on the roof and skateboard late at night and early in the morning, and it causes damage and creates a potential liability situation for the district.
Gibbs said the school district should at least invest in security cameras to catch the culprits.
“Why don’t you go to Costco and buy some cameras for $99?” Gibbs asked. “Go get a picture of these kids. That’s what we did out on our development to catch the taggers. I asked them what they had done to keep kids off the roof, (and) I just get these blank stares.”
Elton disagreed, saying the district has tried to curb the skateboarding, but it’s not feasible. The teenagers will find a way to get there if they want to, he said.
Elton reiterated that the building is safe, but it’s reached the end of its life.
“If the building wasn’t safe, there wouldn’t be anybody in it,” Elton said. “The building is safe, the kids can be there, the staff can be there.
“Does it need to come down? Yes,” he continued. “I went there, I love that old building, but it’s time.”