School’s land deal with Redeemer fails

After ongoing negotiations with Redeemer Lutheran Church since October 2011, with a good faith offer made in December 2011, discussions between the Mercer Island School District and the church seem to have ceased.

Superintendent Gary Plano said at Thursday night’s regular School Board meeting that if the church decides to maintain its present location, the district is still committed to completing the purchase of the adjacent property, the Stevenson Farm.

The Stevenson property, at 4.89 acres, is too small for a school site. However, by locking it up, the district has a valuable asset for a potential land swap in the future, should they need to build a new school, perhaps on the North end where the population seems to be swelling.

Board president Janet Frohnmayer said one of the recommendations of the 21st Century Facilities Planning Committee was to secure more land, which is becoming scarce on the Island.

“The Stevenson property is an important step toward flexibility,” Frohnmayer said.

Plano said representatives for Redeemer Lutheran Church simply have not returned phone calls, and discussions seemed to have stopped.

In a press release, Plano stated, “Although the district exchanged information with church representatives about the potential sale of the property until February 2012, it acknowledges the sensitivity of selling church property, which has been on Mercer Island for over 50 years as reported.”

The district has until August 2013 to close on the Stevenson property, which should give it enough time to come up with the money even if the April 17 bond proposition doesn’t pass.

A potential land swap could be with a seller of commercial property, preferably on the North end.

When asked about property that the district has sold off in the past, before most of the current administrators were on staff, longtime Islander, educator and board member Pat Braman said the district did what they had to at the time, to continue to provide education in light of lost tax revenues and reduced funding from the state.

“Hindsight is wonderful,” Braman said. “We hope that 25 or 50 years from now, people don’t say we missed an opportunity.”

Braman noted that by 2020, a sixth school will be needed because the kids are already born.

Board member Brian Emanuels echoed her thoughts that the district needs to prepare for higher enrollment.

“We have to prepare for that eventuality,” he said.

Public comment on the upcoming bond issue continued with presentations by supporters of the bond and non-supporters as well.

A group opposing the bond has developed a website with their position, called Citizens for Rational School Planning. The creators of the website do not make it clear who they are.

Ralph Jorgenson, who identified himself as an alumnus of the Mercer Island School District, with two children in the district now, recognized the need to alleviate overcrowding and appreciates the work done by the district, he said. However, he said he disagrees with the 3-1-1 plan but would not campaign against the issue, and would also not endorse the anti-bond folks who “remain anonymous.”

Teacher and Mercer Island Education Association president Tani Lindquist said the idea of smaller schools is appealing, as are class sizes of 17 kids, but neither are realistic. She said building a fourth elementary school would stretch the district dollars too thin.

“We’re using closet spaces,” Lindquist said. “1950s builders weren’t thinking about kids on the autism spectrum or kids in wheelchairs.”

Senior citizen Claus Jensen spoke on behalf of his demographic, one that hasn’t been extremely audible throughout this process. He referred to the seniors on the Island as an “endangered species.” Jensen has lived on the Island for 32 years.

“Living on a fixed income, you get a very sharp focus when presented with a bond issue,” Jensen said.

“At the end, I’m going to pony up $4,000 (more) a year. This is keeping my wife and I awake at night.”

He said he doesn’t want to be forced to move off the Island because he can’t afford the property taxes.

“I think my fellow senior citizens are going to be in shock,” Jensen said.

The next regular meeting of the MISD Board of Directors is March 22 at 7 p.m. in the district’s board room.

By the numbers

The MISD will ask voters to approve a $196,275,000 bond on April 17. How it would be used:

• $104.5 million for rebuilding the elementary schools • $75 million to rebuild IMS • $2.5 million for improvement to the stadium • $3 million for science rooms and new classrooms at MIHS • $9.25 million for land purchase • $2 million for Mary Wayte Pool modernization • $25,000 mega-block master plan around MIHS.



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