Gateway: News

Peninsula School District eyes property for potential school

Aside from a thicket of trees and a sidewalk, there’s not much to see on the site of what could become the Gig Harbor area’s newest school building.

So officials from the Peninsula School District held a small ceremony Tuesday at the 14 acres on Harbor Hill Drive to unveil a sign that reads: “Peninsula School District. Future site for learning.”

Whether the property across from the Tom Taylor Family YMCA sprouts a school in the next year or so will depend on the will of voters, who will decide on a $50-million, four-year capital levy Nov. 5.

The levy, which would run for four years, would provide $22.5 million each for two new elementary schools: one at the Harbor Hill site and the other a replacement for Artondale Elementary, originally built in 1952. The remaining $5 million would pay for new technology, improved safety measures at all eight district elementary schools and turf replacement at the district’s two comprehensive high schools.

The school district is in the process of closing its purchase on the Harbor Hill property. The school board voted earlier this year to buy the land, at a cost of $4.4 million.

Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto said the funding came from two sources: the district’s capital projects fund, and impact fees from nearby housing developments – the same developments that are driving the need for a school in north Gig Harbor.

Buying property to accommodate growth was part of the district’s 30-year plan, and it was included in the district’s $78 million bond measure that failed at the polls in 2011, Cuzzetto said. But he said the purchase moved up the priority list with the addition of more housing units in the area.

He said the district decided to act first on the property, using money in hand, and then ask voters to pay for the building.

“We are going to need it at some point,” he said. “If the levy doesn’t pass, we would have to think of other ways to build a new school there.”

John Caldwell, general manager of the Harbor Hill development for the Olympic Property Group, said his company’s residential development includes 320 acres that, when fully built, will include 554 single-family homes and 172 apartments.

District officials expect a crush of families with children. They say the closest school, Purdy Elementary, is already overcrowded, with 746 students last year occupying a school built for 578.

Jerry Gibbs, treasurer for Citizens for Responsible School Spending, which opposes the November capital levy, says it could have unintended consequences down the road. He said if voters approve it, they might turn their thumbs down on the district’s operations levy, which funds an estimated quarter of the district’s day-to-day operations. Voters approved a four-year operations levy in 2012.

District officials say Peninsula voters already pay the lowest school tax rates, per $1,000 of assessed property value, in Pierce County. They quote the current rate of $2.35 per $1,000. If the November measure passes, it would stretch to an average of $3.75 per $1,000 per year.