School innovations, and schools in general, are why many people move to Bainbridge
What causes people to move to our bucolic, little rock? Every transplant – and that now includes the vast majority of Bainbridge Islanders – has a different story. It could be our proximity to Seattle, our semi-rural environment, or our small-town feel. It’s anyone’s guess.
Talk to realtors, however, and what they say stands out for many potential buyers are two important characteristics: southern exposure (a home where there is at least some sunlight pouring in from the south or west to offset the grey, rain and gloom) and our public schools.
Schools? That’s right, many people with young children, adolescents or teens are attracted to Bainbridge Island for the quality of our schools, and the education pupils receive here year after year. Indeed, some folks might not know this, but our school district is annually ranked among the tops in the state, often duking it out with Mercer Island for the coveted Number One rating.
Test scores, SAT results and college and university placements among Bainbridge students bears this out.
“We’re like a private school (district) here with our fabulous facilities and teachers,” says Dianne Speers, the district’s Capital Projects Analyst. “There’s no way a private school could possibly offer what this school district can offer.”
Thanks to voter support of school levies from a very involved and highly educated populace over many decades, Bainbridge public schools are constantly upgraded with new buildings, art and athletic facilities and the latest technological advances.
The most recent example of this on-going attention to detail is the newly completed 100 Building on the BHS campus. The beautifully appointed $40 million brick, glass, steel and wood structure has state of the art classrooms, labs and a commons area and cafeteria.
On the west end—in an adjoining building—is a totally reimagined and renovated theater space, with seating for 350 people and innovations such as a tension grid for hanging lights and scenery that students can actually walk on and manipulate for each scene. In addition, they installed a new sound system and control room, a scene shop, a multi-purpose green room that can be transformed into a drama and vocal room, as well dressing, choir and staging rooms.
To the naked eye, the theater seating alone looks more comfortable than our own Bainbridge Performing Arts center located down the street adjacent to City Hall, or even, dare we say, a professional theater in Seattle, like the Fifth Avenue! It’s that impressive-looking.
Stroll through the 100 Building – as we did on a recent tour – and you’ll swear you’re on a small college campus, with separate, well-lit spaces for classes featuring composites, metal works, woodworking, culinary arts, engineering and drafting, art and music – including an amazing array of practice rooms.
In these labs, you’ll find old schools lathes, sanders and electric saws mixed in with new technologies like 3D Printers. The Culinary Arts studio has more than a dozen commercial grade Kitchen Aid mixers, while in the art center you’ll find at least five pottery kilns the size of bathtubs.
Many of the tables in these spaces – that are open to viewing through walls of glass – are built on castors for easy moving to potentially create other spaces. Electric cords drop from the ceiling to provide flexibility, and the lighting is both natural – sky lights built into the ceilings – along with man-made lighting equipped with sensors that allow dimming when rooms brighten, or provide the opposite when they darken.
Speers, who has been on the job for eight years, says “the structural integrity” of the former LGI (Large Group Instruction) building, which the 101 now occupies, led to the district’s decision to replace it and seek public funding in 2016.
“Back in those days (when the facility was first built decades ago), buildings weren’t built to last 40 years,” she says. “It’s the cost of the upkeep, heating, electricity and everything. These old buildings eat money.”
Employing the architectural concept of “value engineering,” the new 35,000-square-foot building has all sorts of airflow technology, such as thermal bridging, to control heating and cooling, as well replacing older refrigeration and freezer units with highly efficient modern ones.
“Lots of value engineering has gone into this project,” Speers says, as well as efforts to save money by re-using equipment and classroom materials.
Over the years, the district has slowly remade the BHS campus, most recently in 2009 with the construction of the 200 Building, where the theater now sits at its west end. Previously, a new gymnasium – the 400 Building – was constructed in 1999, and across the Quad, the 300 Building was totally renovated the same year.
Across the district, two elementary schools have been replaced over the past decade: Wilkes, on the north end, in 2012, at a price tag of $42 million and Blakeley, on the south end, in 2019 at a price tag of $43 million.
Both are ultramodern facilities that would make any parent or grandparent proud and maybe a bit envious of the deluxe features and layouts, missing from many previous generations.
Down the road, the district will be looking to upgrade and/or replace two other aging schools: Ordway Elementary and Commodore Options Schools. Meanwhile, Speers says she and her colleagues will do their best to keep Bainbridge schools “one and two with Mercer Island” and maintain the island as an education oasis.
*Images by Kevin Dwyer