Board crosschecks project list for school bond issue

This artist’s rendering is for a new Cherry Crest Elementary School in Bellevue. The Bellevue District has been rebuilding its schools and has nearly completed Tyee Middle School. - Contributed Art
This artist’s rendering is for a new Cherry Crest Elementary School in Bellevue. The Bellevue District has been rebuilding its schools and has nearly completed Tyee Middle School.
— image credit: Contributed Art

The library at West Mercer Elementary School was packed with citizens at a special meeting of the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors on Thursday, as it weighs options on a bond to place before voters in April.

As the ongoing process is getting down to the wire, a couple of different options were presented to the public for comment, and for the board to ponder.

Option A, which would cost $104 to $108 million, and could possibly be placed on the April ballot, includes land acquisition for a fourth school; purchase of the site (already identified) and development of that site for moving the bus fleet off the high school mega-block; rebuilding Islander Middle School; money for planning of three new elementary schools and upgrading six to 12 classrooms at MIHS; upgrading the stadium; modernizing Mary Wayte Pool; and developing a master plan for the north campus site and playfields.

If Option A is selected, then in 2013 voters would return to consider rebuilding the three elementary schools and modernizing the six plus classrooms at MIHS, or building school four and rebuilding the three elementary schools plus the upgrade at the high school.

Option B would be, as board president Pat Braman called it, the “whole enchilada,” at a cost of $208 to $212 million, to rebuild all three elementary schools and IMS, along with all of the aforementioned.

Whether or not to ask for it all now versus in two bond issues is a conundrum.

Under the first option, the 2014-2015 academic year is the soonest a new school could open; maybe a year earlier. It would be about the same for option two, but to do four elementary schools is more expensive. It’s also possible that a new middle school and one elementary school could be started at the same time.

But where to build a fourth school? Braman said she’d love to find a site, but not necessarily pigeon-hole themselves into it being an elementary school in case the demographic shifts.

“I do think part of any bond issue should include property acquisition,” Braman said.

Board member Brian Emanuels said it would be preferable to find property on the North end of the Island, where the population growth is. He said the district should secure the money for property acquisition before they go “shopping.” He supports breaking the bond over two or even three years so voters can be given something very specific each year.

Citing the overcrowding in the schools, board member Adair Dingle echoed Emanuels’ desire to find property on the North end. Board member Dave Myerson also supports building a fourth school first to solve the capacity issue.

Emanuels supported a master plan for the north campus, but questioned the merit of upgrading the stadium now, when in fact it might be relocated in the future when and if the mega-block is reconfigured. Braman said taking down the old buildings on the north campus is a priority for safety reasons. Those old buildings serve day care facilities and Youth Theatre Northwest.

Superintendent Gary Plano said, regarding Mary Wayte Pool, the City Council needs to act soon on an operating budget for the pool. Last year 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. Any plan to upgrade the pool would be contingent on a new agreement with the city.

There was also some discussion of moving Youth Theatre Northwest to the old Boys and Girls Club, which could be controversial. Emanuels thought perhaps YTN could share a theater with the high school.

Plano also said that the modernization of the six to 12 classrooms at MIHS would be specifically for science labs.

Citizens’ concerns and input were all over the map.

Linda Floyd, who has three children at Lakeridge Elementary and represented the Mercer Island Food Revolution, and Nancy Weil, facilitator of the district’s Green Team, both emphasized the need for kitchens at all schools, so that fresh, healthy food can be prepared on each site — not reheated, processed food.

Architect and longtime Island resident Lucia Pirzio-Birdi said she believed a cross-generational view was missing from the 21st Century Facilities Committee report, and that any bond might fail if older citizens don’t see the existing facilities as failing. She supported building a fourth school now.

David de Yarza, a general contractor and parent of a second-grader at Island Park, implored the board to consider using a methodology called General Contractor Construction Manager, or GC/CM. Under this concept, the architect and general contractor work as a team in a project’s planning stage. de Yarza said Snohomish High School was built under GC/CM, and by using this method most projects eliminate 30 percent of potential waste.

“The lowest bid doesn’t always mean the lowest cost,” de Yarza said.

Resident Michael Finn said the seismic report stated that all of the schools (except the North Mercer buildings) would be safe in the event of a substantial seismic event, but would be rendered no longer usable, and he said the entire Island wouldn’t be usable because now we know there’s a fault running right underneath it. He also felt that teachers haven’t had enough input into the process. He too, supported building one new school, not four or five.

Upcoming meetings

The Board of Directors of the Mercer Island School District will meet again Thursday night, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m. in the district board room; from 5 to 8 p.m., Jan. 17, and from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Jan. 19, at PEAK for their semi-annual retreat; and again Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. in the district board room.


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