Morton School District Working on Long-Term Plan to Address Failing Structures

Projects:  Elementary School in Need of $13 Million Renovation

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An architect’s analysis of the Morton School District’s bus barn has confirmed what the administration has known for years: The building is in severe disrepair and unsafe to continue using.

The building, which was initially used as an open-bay industrial facility, was first built in 1942 and acquired by the school district in the ‘80s after Morton’s previous bus garage was destroyed in a snowstorm. 

“It was purchased as a stop-gap and it has served us well, but originally it was built for other purposes and now the building is basically in the same shape it has been for a couple of years and we have outgrown the building,” Superintendent John Hannah said.

A condition assessment submitted by KMB Architects on Sept. 7 found signs of severe water intrusion throughout the building envelope and dry rot in the eave framing, lead and asbestos in some of the building materials, outdated plumbing and electrical systems and an overall lack of ventilation, temperature control and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility. A lack of working lift stations means the mechanic — who works alone — manually lifts the buses up with jacks and crawls under them to work, creating what Hannah says is a safety issue.

And the problems don’t end with the structure itself: The south side of the bus barn property is only partially paved and overgrown with vegetation, so buses are only able to park on the north side — but doing that infringes on the neighboring Alta Forest Products manufacturing facility.

“Our buses can have their front tires in our bus garage and our rear tires on our neighbor’s property,” Hannah said. “We have a great neighbor … but the building is built on the slope, so there’s nowhere else to go.”

KMB Architects advised it would be cost prohibitive to try and repair the structure, and the property isn’t compatible with a new construction, so the Morton School District is considering a plan to build a new facility at the middle/high school with a fence to separate the bus garage from the students.

But that project is estimated to cost $3 million, and the Morton School District has other facilities that, while not in as dire condition as the bus barn, are still in need of significant repair.

Morton Elementary School in particular has been identified as a structure in need of a complete replacement due to a need for significant seismic upgrades and a myriad of other projects Hannah said the district has been putting off due to the “domino effect” of starting repairs on the 73-year-old structure.

“It’s been very well taken care of by the district but its had no major remodels since it was constructed in 1948, so in order to address its long-term needs, it becomes a domino effect where one repair needs to have a bigger upgrade which leads to another bigger upgrade, and eventually the district doesn’t have the capacity to address it,” said Hannah. “So unfortunately, the elementary building is stuck in a position where the district is unable to do the repairs that need to be done long term because of the domino effect.”

KMB Architects assessed the elementary school in July and found that aside from needed seismic structural upgrades already identified by the state, the roof was at the end of its life cycle and the building itself was not ADA accessible, not compliant with energy codes, lacked ventilation and temperature control systems and was in need of a complete replacement of its electrical system. And like the bus barn, lead and asbestos were found in some of the building materials, including floor and ceiling tiling, paint and insulation.

Overall, the estimated cost of bringing the building up to code could exceed $13 million.

The district is considering a plan to replace the building with an “elementary wing” attached to the Junior/Senior High School building, with separate entrances and student areas for the two schools.

KMB Architects’ assessments of the bus barn and elementary school were part of a districtwide needs assessment that the school board will consult when making a long-term plan to address the district’s facilities needs. The firm also assessed the Junior/Senior High School facility, and found that the property is a feasible place for the district’s potential future projects.

As part of the effort to create that long-term plan, the district has partnered with Washington State University to put out a survey for Morton community members to let administrators know what they think the biggest facilities needs are as well as their “hopes and dreams for the district,” said Hannah.

The survey is live at bit.ly/3m1cmIh and is open to all Morton community members. Paper surveys are also available — call the district office at 360-496-5300 to request one.

The results of that survey will be presented to a citizen’s committee in four to six weeks, which will give an official recommendation to the Morton School Board. The school board will then finalize a facilities plan and present it to the community.

The district anticipates it won’t be able to cover the cost of facilities repairs on its own and is already looking for ways to fund facilities repairs. In addition to a $50,000 state grant funding the needs assessment, the district is hoping to work with the state Legislature to get capital budget funds set aside for future facilities projects and will consider raising funds through election, if needed.

“We’re really right now trying to survey as many opportunities as we can looking forward to make sure that we have a really good idea of what is the funding we have available and if we need to go to the voters, that we can be clear about the number that we need, why we need it, and what other options are out there that we can rely on,” said Hannah.

More information on Morton School District’s facilities needs is available online at www.morton.k12.wa.us/o/morton-school-district/page/facility-information.

 

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