Will North Mercer campus hold 6th school? MISD board discusses options

Correction: Dean Mack’s quote about the fifth option being cheaper was incorrect. He said the sixth option, with a brand new high school, may end up as the cheapest option because it solves many problems at the same time. The Reporter regrets the error.

At their day-long retreat on Tuesday, June 26, the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors tried to accomplish two projects with one discussion.

The board, which needs to create a North Mercer campus master plan as part of the agreements during the PEAK project negotiations, used the opportunity to look at possibilities for the North Mercer campus, and if it could alleviate the district’s big problem: overcrowding.

During the retreat, Mahlum — the architectural firm hired by the district earlier this year — presented seven options for the campus.

“We’re at about the mid-point in the planning process and this is an opportunity for the board to give more input and to talk about community engagement after this,” said Superintendent Gary Plano on Tuesday morning.

Each of the options provides for short and long-term phases, with the final option used for longer range planning.

Several of the options included either a total rebuild of the high school or remodeling it. Mahlum estimated a new high school building would cost somewhere between $100 to $120 million, which could include rebuilding the pool within the building. Mahlum also designed the new Issaquah High School, but Dean Mack, the executive director of business services and human resources, who worked for the Issaquah School District at the time, said that project benefited from the perfect timing.

“Issaquah was built for about $85 million, at the best financial time possible,” said Mack. “We couldn’t duplicate that now.”

The first option, titled minimal impact, would build a sixth school on the northwest corner of the campus, where the preschools and Youth Theatre Northwest are currently located, leaving Mary Wayte Pool in the same location. The sixth school building would house either 450 elementary students or 650 middle school students. The proximity to the Boys & Girls Club would allow for easy access to PEAK, and keep the two full-sized soccer fields where the current practice fields are. The longer term portion of this option would remodel portions of the high school building.

Option two moved school traffic off of the residential streets and made the entrance for both the high school and school six off of S.E. 40th Street. The sixth school would again be situated in the northwest corner, leaving two full-sized soccer fields, or possibly one if more parking was needed. The high school building would include Crest, with Mary Wayte Pool moving to the area where the district administration building currently is.

This option aims to alleviate some of the traffic concerns by using S.E. 40th, but as traffic has increased on Interstate 90, some board members wondered if adding more traffic to an already busy road was necessary.

“All of the options with two schools means a whole lot more people and traffic [in that area],” said board member Brian Emanuels. “What would have to be done to make it more feasible? So many more people are using 40th now that I-90 is crowded.”

The third option was another attempt to possibility limit traffic on 92nd Avenue S.E. and S.E. 42nd Street. Option three would connect 88th Avenue S.E. through the school’s property. The project would mean demolishing YTN, the North Mercer gym and Child’s Institute, rebuilding the stadium on the northwest corner, and moving the pool and practice fields. Mary Wayte Pool would move to the area where the stadium is now, while school six would be built where Mary Wayte and the practice fields are now. In the second phase, the high school would be rebuilt, likely as a three-story building, relocating a practice field to the current high school parking lot area.

The fourth option creates a shared point of entry for both the high school and the sixth school off of S.E. 40th with adjoining main parking lots. The sixth school would be built next to PEAK in the northern corner, sharing a parking lot with the new high school, which would be built directly across from the sixth school. Where the current MIHS building stands, a high school and community arts building would be built. The pool would likely be contained within the high school building.

Option five focuses on the community assists currently located on the property, including YTN, the pool and North Mercer gym.

The first phase would relocate the administration building and Crest to a wing of the high school, and move the maintenance of buses off site. A sixth school would be built where the administration building is currently. The longer range phase would rebuild the high school next to the stadium, north toward the current pool location. A second building, located at the current high school site, would include the administration offices, Crest, with another portion used for the community groups, doubling as an arts building for the high school. The pool would likely be included in the new high school building.

The one major benefit to this option, Wilcox said, is that the high school would be able to run, pretty much as is, while the new building is built.

“This is the only option that really looks at moving the buses,” said Wilcox.

Option six was much different than the previous options in that it moved the high school to the northern corner of the property.

In the first phase, all current buildings on the northern end of the campus would be demolished to build the new high school. The current MIHS building would be remodeled to one of several options. The building could be used as a temporary site for students as other schools in the district are remodeled, or become a northern middle school, or even possibly another elementary school. In the second phase, the administration building would move into a wing of the remodeled high school, with the pool and Crest located at the current administration site.

Wilcox said another benefit of this project is it could be done in one stage.

“If this is the direction you decide to go in, then we can study all sorts of options for the high school site,” said Wilcox.

Mack said this option may be the one that helps the district solve all problems at the same time.

“One of the cheaper options might be No. 6 because it solves so many problems in one fell swoop,” said Mack.

Due to the way option six is designed, if the district used the current high school building as a temporary school while rebuilding, Wilcox said the 30- to 50-year plan for the area would be to demolish the MIHS building and use the space for baseball, soccer fields and the pool.

One thing the board did agree on fairly quickly, based on the options, was that unless there was a strong requirement to move the stadium, leaving it in its current location made sense.

“We recommend either leaving it where it is, or moving it to the corner,” said Wilcox, as those seemed to be the only two places which made sense on the property. “All [options] will have ripple effects on the other spaces.”

The board plans to hold several community meetings to share the various options and get feedback from the community.

“I think we just don’t know what people are going to say until they see it,” said board member Janet Frohnmayer.


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