Construction news and facilities update for February 2024; Innovative Partnership with the City of Bellingham

A Message from Superintendent Greg Baker

Dear staff, students, families and community,

I want to provide an update related to construction and remodeling projects of our schools and facilities across our district. This work is possible thanks to community support of our bonds, with voters passing our most recent bond in 2022.

This update includes new information/timeline for Elementary 15 and Carl Cozier and updates on several other projects: tennis courts at Squalicum and ¥high schools; Community Transitions’ new facility; the new District Office on Barkley Boulevard; Kulshan Middle School’s addition and new field; and bond refinancing.

Elementary 15 and Carl Cozier
We have shared plans to build a new elementary school in the King Mountain neighborhood (Elementary 15) and replacement schools for Carl Cozier, Columbia and Roosevelt elementary schools. The 2022 bond and future bonds would fund these projects.

Originally, we anticipated building a new school on our undeveloped property just off East Bakerview Road and having that school serve as a temporary home or “swing space” for Carl Cozier, Columbia and Roosevelt as their respective schools were rebuilt, and eventually opening that school as a neighborhood school years later.

We are working onan idea with the City of Bellinghamthat would change our plans. We still have details to work out, but we are currently exploring relocating Carl Cozier Elementary School and building a new Cozier on what is currently city property within the Civic Athletic Complex site.

While I’d like to emphasize that we are still in an exploration phase, district and city leaders are excited about the possibilities of this unique partnership. Leveraging taxpayer dollars in an effective, creative and visionary way, by focusing investment on the Civic Complex, would benefit families and public education, maximize recreational opportunities, support climate resiliency, improve the environmental function of the area, and serve the community now and into the future.

If this plan moves forward, we could use the current Cozier site as a swing space when we rebuild Columbia and Roosevelt. (The initial urgency to build Elementary 15 was based on the need for a swing space because we couldn’t build replacement schools for Columbia and Roosevelt without one.)

As plans with the city progress, it is looking more likely that we will pause our work on Elementary 15 and instead focus on building a new Cozier. We believe a new school in the King Mountain neighborhood will eventually be needed, but we believe it makes sense to focus on replacing our most aged schools now. We will keep our plans for Elementary 15 to use in the future.

What are the benefits to moving Cozier now and working with the city?

  • An advantage of this new concept with the city is that Carl Cozier is centrally located, therefore a shorter commute for both Roosevelt and Columbia when they need a temporary home while their schools are being rebuilt.
  • We think there are a lot of benefits to this idea and possibilities to explore, including whether together we could realize higher efficiency, sustainability or resource conservation goals by commingling utilities. A team of consultants is examining whether establishing something called an “eco-district” might be possible and beneficial.

The goals of the City of ¥and ¥Public Schools are so similar — we both make a collective commitment to the well-being of our fellow community members. We’re excited to share this idea with the school community and to seek feedback on the concept of relocating Carl Cozier on the Civic complex. We are excited about all the possibilities this opportunity presents our community. We look forward to keeping you posted on our next steps.

Other construction updates

Squalicum High School’s new tennis courts opened in October and our P.E. classes, student-athletes and community are enjoying the new courts. The new courts include resurfacing, new nets, lights and an additional court to bring the total to six courts. ¥High tennis courts have been temporarily striped for the spring season and the final surfacing will be completed this summer. BHS’ new athletic building is now complete. This building will house sports equipment for several sports, provide a concession and 4 exterior restrooms.

Photo spread of four photos from L to R: SQHS students playing tennis on new blue and grey courts, a photo from upper parking lot of new SQHS tennis courts, the new athletics facilities storage building near parking lot and softball field, and black tennis courts and white lines showing progress of BHS tennis courts
Currently, theCommunity Transitions(CT) program, which serves 18–21-year-old students in Special Education, is housed at WECU’s community space on Birchwood Avenue. Plans are in place to build a permanent building on leased land at Whatcom Community College. Adesign advisory/educational specifications committeehas been meeting this winter to share feedback and insight with our team and architects to influence the design. We expect to break ground summer 2025.

Two photo spread of Community Transitions building with signage on wall and Dr. Baker greeting a visitor during an open house, and a farther away photo showing entrance with Community Transitions signage and large WECU Community Resource Center sign
Construction continues at the newDistrict Office(DO) on Barkley Boulevard, and we are aiming for a spring opening, possibly as soon as March 25. The new DO includes an early learning center, family engagement center and ample space for professional development and training for staff. The new building will be highly functional and allow the district to fully support our schools, teaching and learning, and operations.

The flooding and water damage at the old District Office on Dupont and displacement of dozens of staff across our district has amplified the need for an updated building with conference rooms and space for collaboration and large meetings.

Aerial photo of new district office from across the street showing finished outside and windows
Kulshan Middle School’s addition of four new classrooms will wrap up by summer 2024. Kulshan is also getting a new turf field, and construction will begin in the summer.

Construction camera photo of new building additions at Kulshan with classroom windows, roof and orange construction fencing lining stairs
Bond refinancing
One last note: Last fall, we sold (or refinanced) $58 million of municipal bonds, which helps reduce the district’s debt and save taxpayers money to the tune of $8.6 million dollars over the next 10 years. Our finance staff has been actively monitoring bond market conditions and low interest rates. This, in combination with our strong financial standing, helps us lower the tax burden on our community while continuing to invest in capital projects approved by voters despite increasing costs due to inflation and supply chain challenges.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about any of our projects!

Greg Baker

Reply togreg.baker@bellinghamschools.org