Community Education

Facilities advisory board forming to address building issues in Peninsula School District

Posted on March 14th, 2024 By:

Peninsula School District is putting together a Long-range Facilities Advisory Board to address issues related to school buildings and district support facilities, like its transportation and maintenance building.

Among other topics, the group will discuss a possible future bond or capital levy. No measure is on the horizon, according to district officials. The district hasn’t even started public discussion of any proposed bond, a critical early step. But part of the advisory board’s mission will be to evaluate whether and when a bond or capital levy is needed, according to Chief Financial Officer Ashley Murphy.

Energy efficiency standards

Another issue that the group will all but certainly consider is a 2019 law setting energy efficiency standards for large buildings, including schools. Compliance would cost the district millions of dollars, though nobody knows the exact amount yet, Murphy said.

But the district could rack up hefty annual penalties if it does not comply. Peninsula is not alone. School districts across the state are grappling with the new law, Murphy said.

A short application for the advisory board will be posted Friday on the district’s website under “volunteer opportunities.” The district will accept applications through March 31 and notify applicants of selections by mid-April.

Advisory board’s mission

Superintendent Krestin Bahr will appoint members of the facilities advisory board and the school board will approve them. Murphy and Patrick Gillespie, the district’s facilities director, will be staff liaisons for the group.

The advisory board will review the physical condition of buildings in the district through the lens of their efficiency and longevity, consider how trends in education impact facilities, and evaluate demographic projections to anticipate future needs.

“PSD is in the preliminary stages of putting together a team that will be seeking public input into our facilities and any need for a future bond,” Murphy said. “If the Facilities Advisory Board were to decide a bond action should go before the board, they would bring that information forward during an open public meeting by providing a recommendation to begin the bond planning process.”

The district is particularly looking for people with experience in public-sector fields related to facilities along with members of the general public. A two-year commitment is required.

“We welcome applications for the Facilities Advisory Board from anyone in our community,” Murphy said. “Ultimately, when you’re talking about a committee like this, we want a breadth of experience at the table.”

Capital Plan outlines needs

In 2019, Peninsula School District voters approved a $198.5 million bond that paid for two new elementary schools — Pioneer and Swift Water — and new buildings to replace Artondale and Evergreen elementary schools. The bond also provided money for major renovations of Key Peninsula and Kopachuck middle schools. Those projects took care of capacity needs at the elementary level, and expansion and modernization of the two middle school buildings in greatest need of an upgrade.

The majority of the district’s remaining buildings are more than 30 years old, according to a Six-Year Capital Facilities Plan Update approved by the school board in September. Under the heading of “asset preservation,” the district has identified roughly $40 million of facility improvements it anticipates needing within the next six years. They include HVAC upgrades, safety improvements, ADA compliance and building exteriors. Facility replacement could potentially address a significant portion of this work, according to the plan.

The district funds smaller projects and ongoing maintenance through its capital projects fund and some from its general fund. Sources for large projects, such as modernization and new schools, include impact fees developers pay on new construction in the community; bonds; and state matching funds for buildings whose age qualifies them for assistance.

High schools a high priority

Peninsula projects enrollment at elementary schools to stabilize over the next six years. But the six-year plan anticipates growth at the middle and high school levels. “The district will be over-capacity at the high school level during some portion of the next six years,” the report states.

General community feedback shows a desire for new high schools and a new stadium, Murphy said.

“We are monitoring our aging facilities and the high school building needs as our middle schoolers prepare to move to high school,” she said. “As the middle school population increases, it is set to surpass our current high school student population. This requires pre-planning to ensure we have enough classrooms to house all students’ instructional needs.”

Along with consideration of building capacity and condition, the advisory board will have to factor in the potential impact of the new energy efficiency standards, set to begin taking effect in 2026.

Clean Energy Standards

HB 1257, which the Legislature approved and Gov. Jay Inslee signed in 2019, cites studies showing that “energy efficiency is the region’s largest, cheapest, lowest risk energy resource.” The bill’s sponsors expect the state can keep up with energy needs and reduce greenhouse gas emission by setting energy use targets for large commercial buildings.

The word “schools” does not appear within the text of the bill. According to Murphy, inclusion of public schools (and other entities like hospitals and nonprofits) in its requirements was an unintended consequence. The education committees in the House and Senate did not hold hearings on the bill, so it flew under the radar of school officials. And yet, now districts must comply.

The bill sets four tiers for energy efficiency targets for buildings. It requires compliance for the largest buildings, over 220,000 square feet, by 2026. Compliance for other tiers rolls out through 2028. Any building over 50,000 square feet is subject to the law.

Tax incentives are offered for early compliance, beginning in 2023. Otherwise, the state provides no sources of funding for the required upgrades.

‘Millions of dollars of work’

Murphy became aware of the new energy standards while working in the Federal Way School District. When Penisula School District hired her in 2022, she and Gillespie alerted district leaders to requirements of the law. Peninsula does not yet have a detailed analysis of the cost to bring its buildings into compliance, but Murphy has a rough idea.

“We currently believe approximately 65 percent of our school buildings over 50,000 square feet would not meet the energy efficiency standards,” she said. “In order to get into compliance with the way the law is currently written, the district would have millions of dollars of work necessary in 65 percent of our buildings.”

The other 35 percent are buildings under 50,000 square feet or newer builds that would be close to compliance, with only minor work needed.

Peninsula has not yet audited its buildings to determine how much compliance will cost. The district last year cut $12 million from its budget to downsize in line with current enrollment and other factors. The audit alone would be around $150,000 and is only good for a limited period of time, so school officials tabled the idea, Murphy said.

Cost of non-compliance

The district also doesn’t yet have an estimate on the annual penalty for non-compliance. Those could potentially add up to $1 million or more each year, Murphy said. Some officials in other school districts are considering just paying the fee.

“That’s what school districts are doing right now,” she said. “And not even just school districts. I know hospitals that are doing the fine analysis as well, and they’re choosing that it’s cheaper for them right now (once the law goes into effect) to just pay the fine every year than it is to do the work necessary to become compliant. Because they can turn around and pay the fee as an annual bill like an annual operational cost, but they can’t come up with the millions of dollars all at once in order to get the building into compliance.”

Impact on bond discussions

New buildings constructed with a bond might solve some of the problem. Except that the new energy standards are a moving target. Compliance is not a one-and-done proposal.

The law requires buildings to achieve a percentage of energy savings on their current use, and they will be reevaluated every five years. So, the bar for compliance gets continually higher.

Each building’s energy use baseline will be based on its age and condition. Newer buildings like Pioneer and Swift Water already have energy efficiencies built in, Murphy said. “So, the thought of coming into a building that’s brand new and having to also find ways to save on the energy side then becomes a little bit more difficult.”

One strategy would be to run a capital-facilities levy to help with compliance, but that could potentially dilute support for a bond. Also, voters just approved two levies in 2023, one for general operations, one for safety and security upgrades.

“And so, we’re putting together this committee, and starting to go through feedback that we get from the community is important now with that conversation in regards to the bond,” Murphy said. “We do have to tie in House Bill 1257 and the requirements of that legislation.”