By Jack Mayne
It took the money from the voter approved recent bond election to give the Highline School District enough money to find out whether the front wall faÃ§ade and the soil conditions beneath it were stable enough to preserve the face of historic Highline High School (read ourÂ previousÂ coverage here).
Catherine Carbone Rogers, the district’s chief communications officer, responded to questions about the stability of the historic front wall of the iconic school in an email Tuesday evening. She said Superintendent Susan Enfield was not available to respond to B-Town Blog questions.
No promises made
The Capital Facilities Advisory Committee looked at the situation of the faÃ§ade stability, said Carbone Rogers, discussed it at length, and recommended the district “preserve as much as structurally and financially feasible.” The district’s Capital Facilities Advisory Committee “was careful not to recommend – and we were careful not to promise – something we may not be able to deliver.”
She said no one knew how stable the wall was and or the soil condition under it until “we had bond money to pay a contractor to study it,” Carbone Rogers said.
“We said publicly many times that we could not accurately estimate the cost or the extent to which we could preserve the wall until a contractor does a full evaluation. Our capital budget was just about empty at the time of the election, and we did not have the funds to do the work.”
“To answer your question directly, we could not â€˜make it clear it was unlikely to be retained’ because we did not know if it was likely or unlikely to be retained,” Carbone Rogers said. “We did not have the information necessary to make a judgment one way or another about the feasibility of preserving the wall until we could have a contractor evaluate the situation.”
Falling is high risk
“The team determined the wall is at high risk of failing even if it is reinforced, which would cost up to $15 million dollars.”
Capital Facilities Advisory Committee Co-chair Rose Clark agreed that the faÃ§ade wall must go.
“Prudent use of our tax dollars indicates that the best way to proceed is to take the north wall down and build a wall that reflects and respects the historic look of Highline High School,” Clark said. “This is the best use of our bond tax dollars as we move forward to build a modern learning center that will be very safe for our kids.”
The district says the dollars for preserving the wall would have to be diverted from construction of other parts of the school or from one of the other bond projects, such as design of Tyee, Evergreen or Pacific; roofing and other critical needs; safety and security upgrades; or one of the other new schools.
Preserving wall materials
Carbone Rogers said the district is working with Bassetti Architects to design a new wall “that reflects the historical look.”
“At this point, we don’t know the costs or compromises that might be involved in a precise replication,” she said. “However, we are committed to honoring the historical look and incorporating salvaged materials into the new school.”
Carbone Rogers said she has noticed some people are saying that it would be cheaper to preserve the wall than build a new one.
“That is simply not accurate given the instability of the wall, it’s brick veneer construction, and the soil condition,” she said.
“The safety of our students and staff and the stewardship of tax dollars are our top priorities. This is our commitment to our community,” added Highline Chief Operations Officer Scott Logan. “We remain committed to honoring the historic look of HHS.”
The building had once been declared by King County as a historical structure, but that Burien did not replicate designation when it incorporated as an independent city.