In Our View: Exception Must Be Norm

Crestline Elementary School construction puts community goal above bureacracy

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The swift resurrection of Crestline Elementary School is a tribute to the school community and to the workers who are making a building rise from the ashes. But it also should raise questions about the process that districts typically must go through when constructing a school building.

The original Crestline burned to the ground on Feb. 3, 2013, leaving students and staff to be dispersed among five Evergreen school district facilities for the remainder of that school year. This school year, kids and teachers have been reunited under one roof on the former Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 134th Street that now is owned by SEH America.

Meanwhile, a new Crestline is being built on the original site at Southeast Seventh Street. The plan is to have the building ready for move-in by Aug. 1, and that is where the scenario grows interesting. As reported by Susan Parrish of The Columbian, the process of designing the prototype for a school and bringing it up to current code typically takes 18 to 24 months — even before the start of construction.

In rebuilding Crestline and co-opting architectural plans already used in a handful of elementary schools, the Evergreen district reduced that time frame to six months. The new building is scheduled to open 18 months after the fire. “We have momentum on this project like I’ve never seen before,” Greg Scott, construction superintendent for Skanska, the lead contractor for the project, told The Columbian.

Consider it momentum driven by necessity. The Crestline community was in need of a school and in need of one fast, and suddenly the time-consuming process that typically accompanies such projects was secondary to that need. It is remarkable what can be accomplished when a goal becomes more important than bureaucracy.

A couple other examples come to mind. In 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed; within 14 months, a replacement bridge was in place. And when the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon collapsed in May 2013, it took the State of Washington less than four months to have a permanent replacement in place.

Some Republican lawmakers in Washington have taken aim at the bureaucratic process they say hampers progress, and they have urged reform within the Washington Department of Transportation in order to save time and money. The specifics of such reform remain to be spelled out and debated, but the need for every governmental body to examine their regulations is clear. If, out of necessity, a bridge can be built quickly in Mount Vernon and a school can be built quickly in Vancouver, then the state needs to answer one overriding question: Why are these things the exception rather than the norm?

Meanwhile, work continues on the new Crestline Elementary. The building will have upgraded technology, security and fire-suppression systems. It also will have both a gym and a cafeteria, while the two had to share a space in the old Crestline. But those won’t be the primary benefit. “The biggest advantage will be returning to our neighborhood,” principal Bobbie Hite said. “We’re really missing our community now.”

That, more than technology or a new gym, is what truly makes a school. For students and teachers, a school is a home away from home, a place where lasting memories are made. The Crestline community has spent the past 14 months in makeshift homes away from home, and they are counting the days until they have a place to call their own.