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District may yet salvage science center

POULSBO — The Marine Science Center once existed under a myriad of partnerships, including the Marine Science Society of the Pacific Northwest, the Port of Poulsbo and many area school districts.

Now, there is only one partner left.

The sole tenant of the MSC is the North Kitsap School District, which will operate classes through the end of the year there before considering its next move. Due to financial constraints, a move-out of the center seems probable, several NKSD administrators have said.

But during a late discussion at the North Kitsap School Board meeting last week, one other alternative surfaced — one that could save the school district money as well as keep students in the MSC’s classrooms.

The district’s simplest option is to cut the science center’s programming altogether. The NKSD currently spends about $138,000 a year at the MSC during a time when it is going to be making at least $500,000 worth in budget cuts. To some of the board members, including Dick Endresen, the money is a good start on the way to cutting back.

“The future of that place is absolutely zero,” Endresen said. “We got stuck with that place ... and our job now is to get unstuck.”

The flip-side of the argument is the value the school district’s students receive for being able to participate in waterfront marine science education. Approximately 2,300 students in NKSD use the center each year, from elementary field trips to four permanent classes in marine biology, biology and marine technical education.

But last Thursday, the school board had uncovered one other option that could allow it to keep the financial belt tight while maintaining a student population at the MSC.

The school board’s decision to change North Kitsap High School from a four-period block schedule — one that allowed time for students to travel by bus to and from the MSC each 85 minute period — to a 55-minute, six classes a day schedule, makes the current program nearly impossible.

But the move to a six-period day also created a need for more classroom space. The district estimates that seven additional spaces will be needed to accommodate some 210 students.

The district has several options concerning the overflow. It could elect to purchase new portable classrooms or transfer used ones from other schools. It could also house 100 or so students at the MSC. The unlikely classroom source that has come up as of late is the NKHS “VOC” building.

Currently used for storage and rumored as condemned, the VOC was the school’s former vocational education building, positioned adjacent to the recently renovated high school gym.

Watching the school board weigh these options was an emotional roller coaster for Marine Science Center teachers Holly Foley and Lillian Cone.

“In the middle of the meeting, I was thinking it was all going to be about money rather than the value of the program,” Foley said. “In the end, I was thinking that once again we had some advocates that would support our program.”

Foley and Cone would like to have other teachers at the center, who would keep some students on the Poulsbo waterfront for half days under the new six-period schedule.

“If this happens, this would give us the opportunity to make a cohesive program,” Foley said.

Board members Bethany McDonald and Dan Delaney expressed the most interest in seeing the science center’s continued use as an education facility.

For the board members who opposed using the MSC further, an impassioned Cone accused the school board of “quibbling” over numbers instead of looking at the value the center provides to students.

“What has been good for 40 years and what has been successful, you’re willing to throw away,” she said.

A $10,000 feasibility study, to determine if there is a sustainable future for the MSC in Poulsbo, will be jointly funded by the district and the City of Poulsbo. Poulsbo City Council unanimously agreed to the proposal at its April 20 meeting and will pay half of consultant Jim Kolb’s expenses up to $10,000.

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