Education

Decisions on school buildings old and new lie ahead for Clover Park district

Woodbrook Middle School is at 14920 Spring St. S.W. in Lakewood. The building is more than 50 years old.
Woodbrook Middle School is at 14920 Spring St. S.W. in Lakewood. The building is more than 50 years old. Staff file, 2016

An advisory committee has recommended that the Clover Park School Board close Woodbrook Middle School in Lakewood and combine students from Woodbrook and Mann middle schools into a new school.

The committee also recommended demolishing a historic school building and preserving another site, where an old school caught fire last year, for future district use.

If board members agree with the recommendations, the new middle school — likely with a new, yet-to-be-determined name — would be built on the Mann site.

The School Board heard the recommendations, along with others from its Facilities Advisory Committee, at a meeting Monday.

The committee — more than a dozen community members, including representatives of nonprofit groups and businesses — has been meeting with district staff members and consultants since June.

Members were asked to update the district’s master plan and make short-term and long-term recommendations to the School Board about district buildings.

Also on the committee’s to-do list: consider what might be included in a future capital bond measure.

The committee looked at consolidating some elementary school sites in the future. Although the committee reviewed several school combinations, Rick Ring, district administrator for business services, urged the board not to lock into any one scenario until the district gets feedback from school communities.

The last bond Clover Park voters approved was in 2010. If the school board wants to run a new bond measure in February 2018, it must decide on its scope and pass a resolution by December.

The board took no action Monday, but a decision on Woodbrook could come this spring, Superintendent Debbie LeBeau said. If the school board decides to close the school, it will need to hold public hearings.

“These are recommendations,” said board member Joe Vlaming, who represented the board on the facilities committee. “They are not telling us what we are going to do.”

“We are committed to collaborating with the Woodbrook community,” said board President Marty Schafer. “We want to take our time and involve the teachers and the community.”

While the board hasn’t yet voted on Woodbrook, it’s no secret that closure has been on the table.

In December, board members passed a resolution authorizing officials to hire an architect to design a new school, noting the “anticipated closure” of Woodbrook in the second half of 2019.

LeBeau said that if the board decides to move ahead with a new school, it would not need new taxes to pay for it. She said the district has an estimated $50 million in its capital projects fund. That includes money accumulated from savings on other building projects over the years.

Woodbrook is near the edge of Joint Base Lewis-McChord just south of Interstate 5. Mann is nearly five miles away, across the freeway.

An estimated 75 percent of Woodbrook’s nearly 500 students live on JBLM or have parents who work there, LeBeau said.

About 40 percent of the students at Mann, with an enrollment of about 400, are connected to the military, she added.

Closing Woodbrook has been discussed for at least a decade, but in recent years there’s been renewed pressure from the City of Lakewood, which has rezoned 150 acres of the Woodbrook neighborhood into an industrial area.

Right now, the school exists as a non-conforming land use within the industrial zone. That means it can’t expand, City Manager John Caulfield said.

The debate over the school’s future has stirred controversy.

City officials say they’ve waited for more than a decade for the school district to respond to its overtures. Some residents and school supporters have accused the city of putting economic interests over the welfare of students.

They point to Woodbrook’s repeat performance as a state-designated School of Distinction as evidence the school needs to stay.

Caulfield said the industrial zoning makes sense in an area surrounded by the military base. The city points to the potential jobs that light industrial development could create.

District officials say Woodbrook — built more than 50 years ago — needs costly repairs. The building has a leaky roof and failing septic system. If the school is closed, the school district will be able to sell the property.

District and city officials are to meet again Monday.

The next step is for district staff members to develop more specific proposals for the school board, Ring said.

Added Schafer: “I want to do the right thing for students and citizens. We know that schools are a significant part of our community.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Learn more

To read more about the work of the Clover Park Facilities Advisory Committee, go to the school district website at cloverpark.k12.wa.us.

If you go

The Clover Park School Board and the Lakewood City Council will hold a joint meeting Monday to discuss, among other things, the school district’s Facilities Advisory Committee recommendations. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Lakewood City Hall, 6000 Main St. SW. More information is available from the school superintendent’s office, at 253-583-5190.

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