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Options High School: Great idea, wrong site

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Tim Paxton guest writes. Tim's testimony and evidence caused the Hearing Examiner to deny permits for Options HS last week. Tim knows of what he writes.

We are all in favor of educating all of Bellingham's children but we demand our schools are safe. Options High will not be safe. Bellingham School District has many other safe and legal options for the site of the new $21 million Options High. They could easily remodel and use the north end of the existing Bellingham High School building. They could build a new school where the bus garage currently is located and move some buses and repair to the warehouse they own on Franklin Street. They could buy 10-30 acres near Civic Field. BSD also owns properties all over Bellingham. (30 acres is the national average acreage for a high school.)

The rushed, secretive choice of putting students in a cramped (1.9 acres), dirty, industrial site, that is under high-voltage power lines, adjacent to an old high-pressure, 10” diameter gas line, on a site previously used to store rusty barrels of toxins is wrong. The site shows that the Bellingham School District apparently considers Options children to be 2nd or 3rd class humans. Is their worth only to be warehoused while the school district collects $10,000+ per year per student? Really, 400 students on this tiny site? Time for a F grade and a do over in basic school siting.

This time, BSD should follow the law and actually notify the public about their secret plans to use $21 million tax dollars. There has been no press until today, other than NWCitizen! On June 2, the hearing examiner denied their application until they actually follow state law and city code on providing minimal public notification. Are they ashamed of the site selection? Looks like it.

A few of the problems: The Bellingham School District and City Planning refuse to do a traffic study. Does anyone remember Anna? She was a 2 year old girl run over in a cross walk at Virginia and Cornwall in 2010. That nearby school project didn't have a traffic study either. BSD demands 10 feet of Franklin Street, which removes 24-40 street-parking spaces alone.

The district's plan is to shut down a popular bike path along open space. Shunting bikes onto a busy road is a closure, not a relocation. They have plans for a 719-seat gym, which by city code requires 180 parking spaces. Then, add a 184-seat theater, which requires 46 more. By their own planned requirements, 226 spaces are needed and only 42 are provided.

Bellingham High School is not allowed to “share” parking spaces based on their conditional use permit and by city code it is unlawful. The BHS 2000-seat gym alone requires 25% of that number available for parking, or 500 spaces. They already have insufficient spaces. Sharing parking spaces is a legal fantasy. Assumption Church/School already shares BHS spaces at-will in any case.

Regarding safety and the pipeline: Recent studies show that running high voltage power lines over steel pipe increases metal corrosion in many instances. In California, schools are required to be 1500 feet away from high-pressure gas lines. The 10” diameter high-pressure gas pipeline, which is likely rusty, is right under the sidewalk and power lines on Franklin Street. Whatcom County Council suggests 500-foot setbacks as safe. Until a series of engineering x-ray tests along this utility corridor are done, there should be no school siting. Parents don't want flaming immolation of their children as an option. Even the EPA suggests siting schools more than 1000 feet away from gas pipelines. This is not just some locals fantasizing about exploding children or earthquakes rupturing pipes, it is a real risk. Anyone still remember the “safe” Olympic Pipeline?

It is time for the Bellingham School District to grow up, do their homework, and look at other safe sites or solutions. Bellingham parents are proud to support and pay for safe school sites and the current Options High School site is not it.

About Guest writer

Writer • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Comments by Readers

Sherilyn Wells

Jun 08, 2016

Bellingham and parents of children who attend (now and in the future) Options High School owe Tim Paxton a huge debt of gratitude for the research he did, identifying issues that were overlooked (or deliberately ignored?) by those proposing this school building site. 
It’s to the Hearing Examiner’s credit (and to the shame of the attorneys involved who tried to suppress Tim’s evidence) that the H.E. didn’t just go through the motions of holding a hearing and then fall into lockstep with the behind-the-scenes power brokers in this deal.  The H.E. actually took note of how Public Notice was not properly given, which is a fundamental first step for any proposal, and acted accordingly.  It’s that kind of procedural error that can send a proposal back to administrative Step One by a court’s review.. so might as well redo Public Notice correctly NOW, yes? 
And proper Notice procedure begins, by the way, with a new Neighborhood Meeting, not with a new/second H.E. hearing. 
PLUS, according to H.E. rules, when that second hearing takes place, there MUST be an opportunity for citizens to rebut evidence submitted by the “initial evidence” deadline.  So there need to be two deadlines - one for initial evidence and one for rebuttal.  I didn’t see any accommodation for rebuttal in the “submission deadlines” given in the Hearing announcement by the Planning Department.  See Hearing Examiner Rules of Practice and Procedure, 2.15(d), which uses the mandatory verb WILL when referring to provisions for rebuttal.

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Tim Paxton

Jun 08, 2016

Sherilyn is right, as usual.  The School District needs to go back to square one and give proper mailed notice as the first step in a Conditional Use Permit type III-A: to the minimal property owner list that the School District managed to fail to do. 

FEMA just had a Cascadia Rising earthquake drill. In any medium earthquake around here, there will be gas lines broken.  Options students won’t have much of a chance. Latte Republic covers this topic well.

Recent research shows high voltage lines and steel pipes = accelerated corrosion.  Little concern from the School District.

Now, it also turns out the Hearing Examiner’s office has been sitting on pages and pages case documents filed on May 18th.  That’s 21 days of delay in letting the public know what more special ideas the School District has to reveal.  Coincidence?

Thanks to Sherilyn Wells for weighing from thousands of miles away. Aloha!

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Tim Paxton

Jun 13, 2016

The closure of a safe & popular bike path along open green space.  A likely/possible reason?  How about the School District just bought some expensive plastic grass and recently figured out it’s BHS soccer practice field was about 10’ too short?  Solution: Close the Northern most end of the South Bay Trail, roll out the plastic grass and use sympathy for Options High as the reason.  (You don’t hate Options students, do you Mr/Ms Council Member? )

Pretend the trail closure is absolutely required for building a new Options High school. (Its not.) BSD already tried to sneak it through without public notice or signs and got caught.  Now the plan seems to be working.  Playing the City Council for suckers.  Well played, Harvard trained Greg Baker.

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Tim Paxton

Jun 21, 2016

It appears that the applicant Bellingham School District has already applied for a building permit for the proposed Options Project while CUP 2016-0008 still in the Conditional Use Permit process (BLD2016-0396), on May 2nd 2016.

The Bellingham Business Journal for June of 2016 reports that the Bellingham School District under Greg Baker applied for their 2015 Franklin Street Options construction permit for a $7,932,600 project on May 2nd, 2016.

The estimated contract bid opened on May 12 is for $21,000,000. 

Q: Is there some kind of special permit fee discount available to everybody or is this just fraud?

Q:  Does this mean the Bellingham Hearing Examiner office have already made a final decision on this Conditional Use Permit prior to the May 18th CUP (illegal) hearing and all of the comments were apparently just for show?

June 22, 6pm Council Chambers is the next illegal Conditional Use Permit Hearing for CUP 2016-0008 and the Bike Path Vacation hearing VAC 2016-0002.

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Tim Paxton

Jun 26, 2016

Q: Nwcitizen readers.  Where do you think the missing $13 million dollars went on this $21 million dollar Options High School?

Q: Do paste, paper, pencils, modeling clay, drapes and desks really cost $13 million?

Q: Why did the School District not reveal this little accounting gem until the very end of the last hearing when some local resident brought it up?

Q: Did the money go to bonus payments to the School Board and Management?

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