Mercer Island School District Board weighs ideas, options for schools

The Mercer Island School District Board of Directors held a study session meeting on Thursday, Aug. 16, so that the board could further discuss, and possibly narrow down, options for a sixth school within the district.

As part of the work to create a master plan for the North Mercer campus, the district has seen many options for how to use the campus and to how best solve the district’s overcrowding problem.

During Thursday’s meeting, the board seemed to narrow down the options to three, but did leave the ability to look at other options on the table.

All ideas included building a new school on the North Mercer campus, and the board loosely agreed on the fact that they wanted to look more at the elementary and middle school option, but still find the high school option interesting. There was not much interest from the board in going forward with looking at purchasing private property for a new school.

“The fourth option [private property] is not appealing at all,” said board member Adair Dingle.

The idea of a new high school on the property wasn’t as popular with the board as the others.

“I think it’s a huge educational challenge to explain why a new high school is the best option,” said Brian Emanuels. “I’m skeptical that would go over well.”

If the district decided to build an elementary school on the North Mercer campus, MISD would still have to decide how best to expand Islander Middle School. While a new elementary school would solve the capacity problem for elementary students, it would not solely be the answer for crowding at the middle school. The district could choose to completely rebuild IMS, or the option the board seemed to think was a better fit was an addition to the school. The budget-plus option at IMS would increase the capacity to 1,200 students, adding 14 classrooms to the school, along with a much larger gym. The budget-plus option for IMS adds approximately $33.2 million to the elementary school option’s total price. A full rebuild of IMS is estimated to cost around $70.5 million.

If the district chooses to make the new school a middle school, the middle school students could be split into two schools, and it’s possible to make the middle schools grades five through eight, alleviating some of the pressure on the elementary schools.

“I would prefer to present the first two options,” said board member Pat Braman. “I think it muddies the water [to discuss the high school]. We didn’t talk about it with the last bond, and it’s more expensive.”

No matter what options the board decides to present to the community, there are many different layers.

“An elementary would be ideal, but that requires a big IMS upgrade,” said Dave Myerson. He said he felt the middle school option likely would solve the elementary problem pretty well.

“The third option [the high school], I’m not really influenced either way,” said Myerson. “But my feeling is that it is a lot of money. The private option, if none of the others works out and traffic on 40th is an issue — then we might be stuck.”

Board president Janet Frohnmayer said another factor to consider is that while the board may choose a good short-term solution, it could mean a bigger price tag in the future.

“It seems important to lay out that spending money now and how it will affect spending money later in different amounts,” she said.

During the meeting, Transpo, the firm that looked at transportation issues around the North Mercer campus before the PEAK project was built, presented some basic information to the board.

In a memo to the district, Transpo outlines that while further study is needed, the district will most likely have traffic mitigation costs to consider with each option. Depending on what type of school is built on the North Mercer campus, traffic habits will change. Two schools operating on the campus will mean more traffic than at present, especially along S.E. 40th Street. The Transpo memo highlighted basic information that was known without doing specific traffic counts, which would not be able to be done until after school starts. Superintendent Gary Plano suggested waiting to commission that work until the board had narrowed down their options even further.

As the board’s discussions on the topic continue, Plano said at this point it’s unlikely that the district would be ready in time to put a bond measure on the February 2013 ballot. In order to do that, he said, the board would have to be ready to make a decision by the end of September, which at this point is not likely to happen.

The board scheduled another study session to continue looking at options, specifically discussing the education impacts of either a new elementary or middle school, for Sept. 6. The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m.


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