Ready for prime time

After months of gathering information and looking at options for the Mercer Island School District, the members of the Board of Directors are ready to get more substantial community feedback.

Gaining a consensus from the board, Superintendent Gary Plano said he will recommend doing community engagement in the forms of meetings and other events in October and November so that the board will have more information by the end of the year.

“I kind of feel like we’ve squeezed all of the blood we can out of this rock,” said board member Brian Emanuels.

“I think we should take it to the community,” he continued. “I’m sure we will get interesting feedback. I always feel like engagement sooner and more of it is better.”

The board decided to put several options in front of the community. Each would put a sixth school on the North Mercer Campus, most likely located in the northwest corner of the property. Several members of the board asked that the elementary option be split up in order to better communicate the choices because with the elementary choice, the district will still have to decide how best to house students at Islander Middle School. As of now, IMS is too small and would need updating. Mahlum, the architectural firm hired by the district, presented three options for the middle school.

The budget addition for IMS is likely to cost around $7.1 million and would essentially replace the current portables at the school. This option was not popular with principal Mary Jo Budzius at the last board meeting.

“I am not comfortable putting the budget option on there,” said Adair Dingle. “It’s lipstick on a pig. I don’t see why we would present it as a viable option when it doesn’t solve the problems.” Dingle later said that though the board decided to keep the option available, if that was the one chosen as the solution, she would not vote for it.

The second elementary option would include the IMS budget plus addition. With a roughly $33.2 million price tag, the school would get new classrooms, allowing the portables to be removed, an enlarged commons and gym, as well as a bigger student center. The third elementary option would include a full rebuild of the middle school.

The fourth option put before the community will be putting a middle school on the North Mercer Campus. This building would likely be sized to hold 775 students, roughly half of the total middle school population, and become the Island’s northern middle school.

JoAnne Wilcox, the architect with Mahlum, offered the board something new to think about during the meeting. If the ultimate choice was a middle school on the North Mercer site, the building could be designed in such a way that eventually it could be expanded farther down the line — 30 to 50 years — into a larger high school. This would help the district get to the eventual long-term plan of creating a high school-only site at North Mercer.

“Short-term, you would have a 775-student middle school built,” said Wilcox. “It would be flexible enough to add on and make it a high school long-term. If you decide to go this way, I urge you to work with the designer on both a middle school and high school at the site, to make sure it works. It could give you great flexibility.”

The board will be asking the community how it feels about having a middle school of grades five through eight. This would ease some of the pressure on elementary school capacity.

Plano said he spoke with several other school districts in Washington that have the configuration, in addition to schools outside of the state. Largely, those that had it did it out of necessity, but found it to be a good set-up for students.

“Battle Creek has had it for about 40 years,” said Plano of the middle school in Eastern Washington. “The principal spoke a lot about stability for students and families. In Granger, this was a solution for higher numbers at the elementaries. They have wings for fifth/sixth graders and the seventh/eighth graders, and have had a largely positive experience.” He said none of the schools were specifically built for the grade configuration but have made it work.

“It would be a challenge to reconfigure IMS without a remodel,” he said.

“Academically, there is nothing terribly wrong with it,” said board member Dave Myerson.

The final option that the community will be able to weigh in on is the high school option, unchanged from previous meetings. No matter what is eventually chosen, the board will likely need to add classrooms to Mercer Island High School, specifically science rooms, to hold the increase in students.

While the board would have liked to have had more information about educational specs, concerning what is needed specifically in school spaces for each level, waiting until options have been narrowed down was recommended.

“Often, a school program is designed around the facility they have to live with,” said Plano. “It’s a chicken and egg question. Do we put something out there and then find out the community doesn’t like it, or the other way around?”

The board decided to hold off on doing any ed specs until after community engagement.

“Once we get the options back from the community, it could be split 20 percent, 20 percent, 20 percent,” said board member Pat Braman. “Somehow, we have to figure out what to do, if it comes back that way. We’ll still have a decision to make.”

The board will meet with the City Council next on Monday, Sept. 24, for a joint meeting beginning at 5:15 p.m. in the Council’s chambers at City Hall.

What about Mary Wayte Pool?

Another piece of the discussion with the community will be about the Mary Wayte Pool.

Depending on input, the board may include some basic maintenance costs for the pool on the next bond. In order to keep the pool running essentially as is for the next 10 years, the district will need to spend around $2.5 million to reline pipes, replace exterior siding and replace the roof and windows.

The more expensive option, which would extend the life of the pool for up to 30 years, would cost around $6.2 and would completely renovate it. However, as the board discussed, that means the pool would be locked into its current location for the next several decades, possibly limiting the North Mercer site in the future.

Depending on which school option is chosen, it’s possible that building a new pool within that space would be another choice. A new pool is expected to cost around $7.9 million.


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