NKSD shaken, stirred to pass bond

Amidst the chaos of construction to which the North Kitsap School District students have grown accustom, North Kitsap junior Eric Frei studies quietly at the school. - Brad Camp / Kitsap News Group
Amidst the chaos of construction to which the North Kitsap School District students have grown accustom, North Kitsap junior Eric Frei studies quietly at the school.
— image credit: Brad Camp / Kitsap News Group

NORTH END — It was an event that shook the foundations of North Kitsap’s schools — and solidified the need for a bond.

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2001, at 10:54 a.m. the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually Earthquake shook the Puget Sound region.

In Kitsap the “very unexpected” quake hit hard enough to rattle a few wall hangings to the ground.

Unbeknownst to most, the quake came at the ideal time to help the North Kitsap School District accomplish a monumental, eight-year undertaking.

The Nisqually shook about one week before voter ballots for NKSD’s 2001 approximate $60.1 million capital projects bond hit the mail.

At the time some 70 percent of the North End’s population weren’t directly related to the schools, therefore, it was a huge sum of money the district was requesting of the voters, said Cami Hattrick, one of three co-bond chairs.

Naysayers said it would never pass.

However, Catherine Ahl, who was elected to the NKSD school board in December of 1999, recalled one of the three campaign slogans for the bond: “Preserve what we have,” and a major slice of that was to bring all the schools in the bond up to earthquake standards.

“People were calling me and saying ‘How did you make that happen?’” Ahl said. “Man we could not have planned this any better. Luckily no kids were hurt. But it really pushed us over the edge. It probably did make up some peoples’ minds.”

The bond passed with a 63.2 percent approval rate.

Hattrick said the bond committee met at the North Kitsap Education Association building on the fateful voting night, awaiting results.

Hattrick believes the voting closed at 8 p.m., and within minutes a call came in.

“By 8:15 the call came in and said, ‘You’ve got it. It was there,’” she said. “We just screamed. We were all in shock. We were amazed they were able to call it that night.”

With state matching funds, and a few miscellaneous additions from interest earnings, impact fees and property easements, the bond program capped at approximately $99 million, said Director of Capital Programs Robin Shoemaker. In the approximate seven-and-a-half years that followed the bond’s approval NKSD has nearly completed a paramount undertaking, and improved the overall quality of the district for staff, students and the community.

The schools and buildings included in the bond are North Kitsap High, Kingston High, Poulsbo Elementary, Pearson Elementary, Suquamish Elementary, Spectrum Community School and the NK Community pool.

Nearly all the bond’s promised projects are complete, except for a few possible additions to PMS, Suquamish, Spectrum and the projects at NKHS and KHS that are still active.

The bond’s final major project is the completion of phase II at NKHS — the commons and entryway — which should be finished Feb. 1.

The Vikings winter formal dance is set to be in the shiny new commons on Feb. 7, said NKHS Principal Kathy Prasch.

The extensive capital process began 10 years ago, as Hattrick said a group of citizens were brought together to determine the district’s direction and outline a comprehensive Capital Facilities Plan in 1999.

A majority involved shared the same line of thought.

“We liked the idea of small community schools,” Hattrick said.

Discussions focused on whether to make NKHS a huge campus or consider building a second high school, where most of the future growth is expected, what to do about transportation, how to move out of as many portables as possible and how best the district’s resources can be preserved.

Back at the turn of the century it was no surprise NKHS was becoming very crowded and sooner than later enrollment would surpass capacity.

“The group didn’t start out saying ‘Let’s build a second high school,’ but it really came down to let’s make smaller elementary schools. Let’s move the sixth grade out of elementary school and make the junior highs middle schools and move ninth grade up to high school where it belongs,” Ahl said, before adding most of the North End’s growth was expected to take place in the Kingston area. “Then it became ‘let’s build a second high school in Kingston. ‘And boy, that was scary. Just operating two high schools was scary to think about.”

Naturally issues have surfaced in regard to managing two high schools, but superseding any issue is the overwhelming positive effects KHS brought to the Kingston community.

Craig Smith, a longtime business owner in Kingston, said he remembers controversy over the purchase of land for the high school. But logistically it worked as it’s placed between Kingston Middle and Gordon, the wetlands in the area impacting the field space is the “reality after the dream.”

But for every negative, Smith said he’s heard 10 positives.

“It’s been very positive in helping retain the quality of life in our rural community,” he said. “More kids are involved, it’s a great thing.”

Once a decision was reached to go forth with a bond and three main goals or slogans were cemented: “Preserve what we have, Provide for the future, Partner with the community,” the real work of getting the community on board began.

Ahl said phone banking took place every weekend, people manned the supermarkets, stores and schools getting the word out and community meetings were held.

The first project was Pearson Elementary. Ahl was thrilled to be back at Pearson because her kids attended there and now she was part of the renovation process.

“We were all out there with shovels turning the first piece of earth even though we weren’t moving earth for those projects, but that’s what you did,” Ahl said. “It was exciting.”

From there work on the pool began followed by Poulsbo Elementary and NKHS phase I, then came Suquamish and KHS, next was Poulsbo Middle and Spectrum and finally NKHS phase II, still in the works.

A recent tour of NKHS showed a commons area with “quite a bit more space,” several large natural light skylights, a new and improved student store, a beautiful new library with an entire area for laptop classes, an increased number of bathrooms to help kids transfer between classes faster and the future home of a Kitsap Credit Union branch, which will open in September, among several other benefits.

“The kids will serve as employees during lunch as part of the personal finance class,” Prasch said of the credit union. “It’s just so exciting. As we’ve opened new areas it means so much to the kids.”

It’s been a long time coming and hundreds of the district’s students have spent their entire NKSD educational career in the midst of construction.

Hattrick said when it all started her son was a third grader at Poulsbo Middle; he’s now a junior at NKHS.

But sacrifice was for a huge payoff, and most involved from the beginning are more excited at the bond’s pending close and accomplishments than a Democrat on Inauguration Day.

Especially as all that was promised was accomplished and then some.

“We’ve accomplished a tremendous amount and it’s been a great ride,” Shoemaker said. “Things have gone well. There’s a great deal of satisfaction, but it’s also been a lot of hard work.”

Approximately $846,000 will be left once the final touches are completed.

The district hasn’t made any decision on how to use the excess.

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