Numerous options for new schools

The Mercer Island School District Board of Directors asked for options when considering adding a sixth school to the district, and options they got.

During the Aug. 2 board meeting, Mahlum, the architectural firm hired by the district, presented more options to the board for the North Mercer campus, which will be used for the district’s master plan.

The initial idea was to look at the district’s options if a sixth school was to be located on the North Mercer campus, as was discussed during the board’s retreat in July, as well as what would happen if a sixth school was built on land elsewhere.

“This is about short-term solutions and how it fits into the long-term plan,” said MISD Superintendent Gary Plano. “On the 26th, we talked about Option A, and Option B was siting a school on private or park land. It’s getting us ready for the next phase, which is to engage the community.”

Mahlum’s JoAnn Wilcox presented Option A in several parts, running through the scenarios if the sixth school, located at North Mercer, was an elementary, middle school or high school. All of the possibilities in Option A included school six being located on the northwest corner of the property, where the North Mercer gym and Youth Theatre Northwest are currently located.

If the sixth school becomes an elementary, it would likely house 500 students, which would not help the district solve its capacity problems at Islander Middle School or Mercer Island High School. IMS is expected to need space for 1,200 students, when it currently houses 875. For this option, the district could expect to spend around $30.4 million as a base number. All cost expectations were based on the idea that a bond would be put to the voters in February of 2013.

With all of the options, the district would also likely need to spend additional money on other projects. MISD could expect to spend around $2 million to renovate Mary Wayte Pool, and/or build either an addition, redo part of IMS or completely rebuild it to increase capacity, at a cost ranging from $7.1 million to $70.5 million. Stadium improvements at the high school are slated for about $2.5 million. Depending on the option, it’s possible that the district may be able to utilize the gym at the Boys & Girls Club PEAK facility, which would help cut some costs.

If school six is built to become a middle school, it would hold 775 students, or roughly half of the middle school students on the Island. That would ease the capacity issue at IMS, but would not help the capacity issue for the elementary schools or high school.

In this option, the school would be built next to PEAK in the corner, with two full soccer fields on the site, and some of the buses would move to IMS to give the new building more space.

According to the presentation, this option’s base price is about $50.9 million. The expected end price would be around $56.7 million, including funds to renovate the pool, move buses, upgrade the stadium area and reduce the current IMS building for fewer students.

If the district decides to use the North Mercer campus to build a new high school, the capacity issue would be solved for all schools. It’s also the option with the most flexibility and would be the most expensive.

“This one gives you the most options long-term,” said Wilcox.

Should MIHS be rebuilt, the school would be located on the northern corner, with the parking lot off of 40th Street. Then the district could use the old high school building as the middle school, and the old IMS building as a fourth elementary. The old high school could also be used as a second middle school, but that option would still leave more students than there are room for at the elementaries.

A new high school would have a base cost of around $110.2 million, but would go up to around $116.4 million if other improvements are included.

The second option that was presented by Mahlum was the option that included a sixth school located off of property that the district currently owns. One possibility that has been discussed with the City of Mercer Island as part of a longer range plan is for the district to acquire the land where the City Hall and other offices are located. Four parcels off of S.E. 36th Street would give the district about 260,000 square feet that could be used for an elementary school. The property is appropriately zoned but does have a watercourse running through part of the area, which would require a 50-foot buffer on either side, making it a challenge for siting the school.

“This could hold a 775-student middle school or a 550 elementary,” said Wilcox. “But the creek does present a design opportunity, as we say.”

The second area that is a possibility for land acquisition would be the three-acre parcel of Homestead Park that’s currently wooded, next to West Mercer Elementary. The parcel is only 129,500 square feet and has a fairly significant grade, which would make it very difficult to use as a space for a school. Wilcox said it’s not a recommended site for a school, unless the district uses it as part of a rebuild or renovation of West Mercer.

“It doesn’t allow for much extra space,” she said. “It complicates an already complicated site.”

The board agreed that the three-acre site doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit, unless it’s used for extra space.

In general, the board said it’s interested in exploring the option of the site where City Hall is currently located.

The board decided to hold a study session, likely on Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m., to continue discussing the options before developing a community outreach program.

To view a copy of the Mahlum presentation and options, visit


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