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.