Now that the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors has decided to put five options before the community, the district has hired Triangle Associates and TranspoGroup to help them get through the process.
Triangle Associates is a company that will look at the information that the board wants to share and figure out how best to communicate the information correctly and accurately to the public. This type of project is something the company does frequently.
“We do this a lot,” said Triangle’s Bob Wheeler, a senior facilitator with the company. “We’re a neutral third party to help get information out to the public.” He added that the company will be very interactive with the district, meeting with team members throughout the process and doing a final report of their findings.
As Superintendent Gary Plano said, Triangle will help the district reach more people and help the community understand not only why a new school is needed but also help people understand the various options.
“We’re well connected to people in the school community, but there are those that we don’t reach, and they are harder to reach,” said board member Brian Emanuels. “It sounds like you have the techniques to get to them.”
Wheeler said some of the group’s initial work will be to identify the various groups on the Island to speak with, even to arrange small meetings to get a feel for where the people on Mercer Island are with the issue.
“It’s hard to get people to go to meetings,” said Wheeler. “Smaller settings are something we do a lot of with this type of thing.”
Board member Pat Braman said she’s concerned with making sure that people have the facts and not misinformation about the schools or the options.
“I’m concerned about misinformation, and as a neutral group, are you prepared to say, time out, this is what is correct?” she asked of Wheeler. Wheeler answered by saying because the company has no stake in the outcome, and none of them live on Mercer Island, they are there to provide the community with neutral communication. Plano said the district will also have people at the various meetings to help clear up any misconceptions.
“It’s important to differentiate between opinion and a refusal to acknowledge what’s been presented as facts,” said board member Adair Dingle. “I don’t know if an information session is going to be productive if we can’t separate the two.”
Wheeler acknowledged it’s a complex issue, comparing vastly different things that don’t necessarily compare easily.
“This is a complex one,” he said. “It’s not apples and oranges; it’s different types of fruit. For someone who hasn’t been engaged, it’s not easy.”
Even for the board, which has discussed the topic at length, at the moment there is not a front runner solution.
“The board hasn’t made up its mind,” said Emanuels. “I don’t know which option I like best, and we’re very open-minded and want the public’s input to help us. We really want people to look at the problem and give us feedback.”
The district will pay Triangle Associates no more than $30,000 for their work, which will include community meetings, information sessions, flyers and other work.
The board also heard from Liz LeRoy on the TranspoGroup’s work, which will count traffic and gather traffic information around the North Mercer Campus.
Transpo will do traffic counts on several days, specifically looking at the traffic along Island Crest Way, Gallagher Hill Road and S.E. 40th Street, in addition to counting pedestrian activity. The same company was charged with a similar task in 2005 prior to the PEAK project, and the new numbers will allow the district to compare and see how patterns have changed and what adding another school to the property might mean. LeRoy said the count will also include one event of the district’s choice, such as a football game.
“The community is concerned about the traffic impact, and with this we’ll be able to say we’ve collected data and building data, knowing it’s an issue,” Plano said of why the study is important.
The board was also curious to know, compared to the older numbers, if the tolling on SR-520 has truly increased traffic along Gallagher Hill and 40th Street.
“It’s difficult to know the traffic impacts, but it’s even harder to project them until we have a baseline,” said board president Janet Frohnmayer.
The board agreed to a contract with Transpo not to exceed $28,000.
The board will hold its next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. in the board room at the MISD Administrative Building.