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City, schools meet to discuss future
The Mercer Island School District wants to keep the Mary Wayte Pool afloat for another 10-15 years, as long as the city continues to provide financial help for the 40-year-old pool. The pool is just one of the issues that face the schools and city as they address the need to replace aging facilities and infrastructure on the Island. Pledging to work together, the City Council and the School Board met at a joint meeting Oct. 27.
Olympic Aquatics, which operates the pool, is interested in extending their contract. But some major investment into the pool is still necessary; a new heater for the pool is needed and the pool needs to be resurfaced, said MISD superintendent Gary Plano. The restrooms have already had a facelift to include ADA accessibility.
The two bodies agreed in concept to extend the interlocal agreement between the two to keep the pool open and operating, and agreed to begin work on a new interlocal agreement in the first quarter of 2012. The current two-year agreement, which was entered into in January, would need to be extended. The agreement also has an escape clause for either party to end the agreement, which needs specificity.
The School Board also wants to move forward on a future partnership of the two body’s transportation fleets. The school district’s 21st Century Facilities Committee has recommended moving the buses off the present site next to the stadium. As part of the plan, the board is looking at options to move their fleet to a location near City Hall and perhaps sharing space and maintenance services with the city. The school district wanted assurance from the city that such an arrangement is possible.
The city has an equipment bay that services most of the city’s vehicles, whereas the district has to send buses off-Island for maintenance.
“This is an opportunity that should be considered and pursued,” said City Manager Rich Conrad.
Securing land around City Hall could be difficult; Conrad said he is not sure the city can provide the assurance the School Board wants.
“But there are opportunities around City Hall,” Conrad said.
City Council member Dan Grausz suggested the district should move quickly on land acquisition given the soft market, noting that both parties represent the same taxpayers.
In light of the congestion and accidents on streets surrounding the high school campus, the district has met with student leadership to come up with ideas to reduce traffic. Many students now have Orca cards, but it’s unknown how much they use them. MISD board member Adair Dingle suggested that perhaps the city could engineer a pull-out lane for turning into the school. The problem is on the city’s radar, with Conrad stating they hope to have something shaped by early 2012.
The final issue on the agenda was the district’s plan to replace or rebuild schools. Some of the plans include taking over space now used by tenants. Grausz asked about Youth Theatre Northwest, making the point that the district is not in the theater business. MISD board member Janet Frohnmayer pointed out that YTN is a valuable community asset. If the district doesn’t need the site that YTN is on now, it will continue to function unless a ‘black box’ theater is included in the school plan.
The school district must begin to make its case to voters for the money.
The bottom line is overcrowding, but Dingle pointed out that most people, who don’t have kids in the schools, don’t realize how crowded the schools are. That said, the district intends to send a mailer out in about 10 days, to all citizens, about the facilities plan.
Conrad said the city is entering into a phase where most of the taxpayers’ money will be going toward schools.
Discussion of building a fourth elementary school was a bit contentious, since locating a 10-acre site on Mercer Island is tricky. Council member Mike Cero likes the idea of a fourth elementary school on the North end, if property could be secured. Council member Jane Meyer Brahm said she thought it would be a hard sell to float a bond for four new elementary schools.
“The fact that 650 students are in portables will resonate with voters,” she said.