Soon, Mercer Island residents will begin to see the roll out of various options for a new Island school. A new school is just one element present in all three options for upgrading Island schools. The Mercer Island School District Board of Directors is looking for feedback on the type, design, placement and cost of a new school. The process, to be handled by Triangle Associates, will rely on a multi-front communications plan, to extend over all facets of the planning process that will include Facebook, websites, community meetings and more.
Beginning this week, the district will post information on its website outlining the various options, meetings and other important information. Meanwhile, Triangle is working to create a Facebook page, as well as a Mind Mixer website, a site that allows residents to provide input on the plans and create a dialogue. The MISD website, Facebook and Mind Mixer will each list the options that the board has been discussing, so not only will residents be able to see and read the plans, but they can comment on it.
Mind Mixer is an additional service and will cost the district $2,500 to set up, and $350 per month to use. After the conclusion of the public engagement, the district will continue to have access to the site so that it can be used in the future for other topics, if needed.
Bob Wheeler, with Triangle Associates, said the hope is to have everything mocked up by the middle of this week, and roll out the sites early next week.
As part of a study session with the School Board on Thursday, Oct. 11, Wheeler and other members of the Triangle team asked the board questions about where they hoped this would take them and what they foresaw the process being.
“When we do have the bond, I hope there are no letters to the editor saying we don’t know where this came from,” said board member Brian Emanuels about what successful community engagement would be. “I hope there is a general awareness.”
“I want it to be like a public hearing,” said Dave Myerson. “I want people to feel like they can actually be heard and have some influence on the decision. I think that’s what we need. People should have that opportunity. I would want a set of large meetings with large conversations.”
MISD Superintendent Gary Plano said one perception about the Island is that it’s a newly built community, when actually it’s a mature community and new infrastructure is fairly rare. In recent years, there have been few new large-scale projects built by bonds.
“That doesn’t happen a lot here,” he said.
Wheeler also asked the board what they felt the key messages should be.
“Space requirements and how they are different now than they used to be 30 years ago,” said board member Adair Dingle.
“The way teaching is today, we don’t teach the way we did in the ’80s,” said Pat Braman.
Emanuels said he wants to make sure people know that there is still the capacity problem and that there is still a big problem to solve.
“We have 28 portables and some are 20 years old,” said Plano.
“Capacity has to be the key message,” said Myerson. “We’re lacking key places for students, and somehow we have to solve that problem.”
The board also wanted to make sure the community understood the amount of work and various things the board has done to get to this point, and to build confidence with voters that they were doing what needed to be done.
“We did go back to the drawing board and develop a set of alternatives that are educationally sound,” said Janet Frohnmayer. “Inherently in all of them are a set of tradeoffs. The community is going to have to react to the tradeoffs and what is important to them.”
Braman added that because of those tradeoffs, it’s not going to be possible to get everything in a perfect package, but it is important to weigh the choices because one tradeoff may have larger implications than others.
The board also had a discussion about how to include the bond that failed last winter. The former bond, which is much different than the options currently being considered, will be included in the timeline of what work the board has done thus far.
“I think we should leave it there,” said Myerson. “If the community would like to bring it up, they should.”
“I certainly think having information about what the bond was should be part of the process,” said Braman.
The board will hold its next regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 25. Information concerning community meetings will be posted online at www.mi-reporter.com as meetings are scheduled.