Guest writer Barbara Perry is a member of the Think Tank. She writes to alert citizens what is happening. Barbara lives in the Happy Valley neighborhood and is very active in this community. The Bellingham School Board has decided to close the Larrabee Elementary School after the 2013 school year. - editor
Larrabee School– LR TT Meeting– What Is Happening
The Larrabee Repurposing Think Tank (LRTT) My Meeting Minutes For Dec 5, 2013:
Personal Thoughts in Bold Italics
The 14 meeting members and four Ex-officio members for LRTT have been chosen. Members had to apply on line to qualify, being asked to explain what the applicant’s “Experience or Interest” was. No one explained how or who chose the final members. Members are listed on the school website: http://bellinghamschools.org/repurposing-larrabee-think-tank
Rob McElroy and Ron Cowan led the meeting. Members introduced themselves. Most members were parents, past students, teachers, and community members who “loved” Larrabee.
It is a closed meeting. Rob McElroy explained that the public is allowed to attend the meetings but not allowed to say anything. No one explained what power the committee had other than to give their thoughts.
The public may not ask questions or comment; however community members may write or speak with board members: see Code of Governance for the School Board
The Code states that board members “3. Hold confidential from the public, including family and friends, all matters discussed in the executive session.”
If someone wants an issue addressed, please send to NW Citizen so that I may present relevant concerns.
Rob McElroy, executive administrator, did say that there were no plans to sell or close the school and handed out a “Sale of Real Property” document (Policy No. 6882). He also stated that if a significant amount were offered, a sale might be appropriate. The document states that “a market value appraisal will be secured by a designated real estate appraiser … certified under chapter 18.140 RCW selected by the Board.” In addition, if the appraised value exceeds $70,000 notice has to be presented in “a newspaper of general circulation…for once a week for two consecutive weeks.”
I find the “Sale of Real Property” to be a disturbing document. I stated that any decision, I would hope, be approved by the neighborhood. That is definitely not necessary. I also am concerned that there is only one appraiser and so little information and time are given to the public.
There were two Ex-officio members, architects on the committee, one from the Don Wilcox Architectural firm. He pointed out that an elevator for the school was NOT an option because the elevator itself would not be expensive but tearing down the old structure to fit it in would be in the $100,000 or more range.
We did get a small history of the school as well as a handout of the histories of other small schools in the city. The first Larrabee school was donated by the Larrabee family in 1890 for “families in need.” The second school (now on the grounds) was built in 1920.
One architect confirmed that the school was made of old growth timber, which is great in that it is strong and 2 x 4s are really 2” by 4”; however, he added that building codes did not require that structures be fit properly or securely, which is why rebuilding would be difficult for making code.
I would love for people to send questions such as the ones that cross my mind: Old Scandinavian structures were built securely. Do they have strong reinforcements? Do we know who the architect was and have any history of his plans? Could ramps cross the back of the school leading to the second and third floors so elevators would not be necessary and they would not destroy the beauty of the front part of the school?
The principal’s office was often the sick room and the room for difficult children. She had a desk often used by troubled students as well as herself.
The library was on the third floor and because I am disabled, I decided not to check it out as it was too much of a walk up the unusually high (1920’s standards) stairs.
There are steps for a fire on the outside of each end of the building, but any student having difficulty walking would not be able to go down them.
MY END THOUGHTS:
Rob McElroy kindly followed me on the tour as walking in the hallway without rails and on tile floors I found challenging. I was grateful for his assistance. The building is obviously not disability assessable.
Future meetings were planned to be held at the Roeder School, but after seeing how disabled I was, Mr. McElroy thought he might be able to arrange to have future meetings in Larrabee’s gym.
Not everyone is disabled, but the neighborhood wants this school so much, there may be simpler solutions than the high cost corporate ones. Larrabee is not from as wealthy an area as Lowell and that school was saved with the community’s support. Ways were found to make Lowell assessable. Knowing how members were chosen would help understand their perspective.
Please send your ideas and/or questions to NW Citizen. I will try my best to express reasonable community concerns.
Please do remember that this is an advisory committee to give ideas to the superintendent but it does seem he has final decision making power except maybe with board approval.
I need to ask more about the school board power, such as, do they have the power to promote what the committee wants and how much power does Superintendant Baker have?
I appreciate respectful, thoughtful comments.