After months of hard work, public meetings and countless discussions, the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors will vote on whether or not to approve a revised bond issue to rebuild and expand major portions of Island public schools.
The new bond issue, if approved, would ask voters for approval to sell just under $100 million in bonds to: 1. Construct a new elementary school referred to as Elementary No. 4, adjacent to the Mercer Island High School campus, for an estimated cost of $42,726,380; 2. Expand Islander Middle School for $48,779,588; and 3. Construct more classrooms at Mercer Island High School for a cost of $11,094,032.
The total project cost is set at $102.6 million, an amount that will be offset by $3.8 million of matching funds from the state of Washington. Last April, the School Board approved a bond for $196 million that addressed both overcrowding and meeting the increasingly sophisticated educational needs of students. Sixty percent of Islanders who voted said no to the proposal. Approximately 54 percent of registered voters on the Island took part in the special election, with 9,208 out of 16,953 voting.
Board member Dave Myerson voted against sending the 2012 bond issue to voters, saying that the district needed to include a fourth elementary school in the proposal. The dollar amount also troubled him.
Since that time the board added a fourth elementary. It also revised and reduced its original plans dramatically. The rebuilding effort became more focused on relieving overcrowding in the schools.
Myerson said that he will vote yes to send the bond to voters and work to ensure its passage.
“We may debate some minor issues at this point,” he said of the School Board. “But we are all in agreement now.”
Many in the community who opposed the first bond proposal were invited to participate in putting a revised plan together. They, too, are now supporters.
Yet due to external factors, estimated building costs are higher than they would have been even a year ago. School planners and consultants note that the resurgence in the economy and construction activity has brought more competition and higher costs.
“The cost is realistic,” Myerson said of the new bond amount. “It is not as low as we hoped it to be. But we have sharpened our pencils and cut as much as we can.”
Money from the sale of bonds and matching money from the state will pay for:
• Demolition at the North Mercer Campus and construction and equipping of a new elementary school at the North Mercer campus, and if sufficient funds are available, facilities for the special education high needs/low incidence program and appropriately sized gymnasium to accommodate the high school athletic program.
• Demolition, rebuilding and modernization of a portion of the middle school, including 14 classrooms and lab spaces, commons and cafeteria, gymnasiums, music rooms, library, administration space and, if sufficient funds are available, facilities for the teacher resource center and a physical education center to replace the current physical education annex.
• Undertake facility additions, improvements, modernizations and/or renovations to Mercer Island High School to provide 10 additional instructional spaces, including four science labs and six classrooms.
Service of these bonds would increase the current tax rate for debt service (principle and interest on bonds) from present debt service levels of $0.57 per thousand dollars of assessed value in 2013 to $0.82 per thousand dollars of assessed value in 2016, an increase of approximately $0.25 per thousand dollars of assessed value. Most other years, the tax rate would be $0.81 per thousand dollars of assessed value. The final debt service payment on these bonds would be made in the calendar year of 2031 or 17 years following the issuance of the new bonds.