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Plans to upgrade schools took years
For nearly seven years now, Mercer Island School District leaders have painstakingly looked at ways to meet the educational needs of Island students in a rapidly changing world. In 2007, the Mercer Island School Board of Directors began a public process “to make informed decisions on what is in the best interest of our community and schools.”
Understanding that there were cultural, technological and economic changes ahead, the School Board sought to construct a new mission statement. The effort was first named, the ‘Really Big Idea Committee.’ District leaders brought together consultants, teachers, parents, the community to discuss what an Island-based K-12 education needed to deliver in the coming years. The process sought to evaluate the efficacy of the district’s current policies, describe new objectives and define the educational goals the community had for their children.
The effort led to many meetings, reviews and workshops. It included parsing what an ideal learning environment might look like to the addition of new state of the art science labs to spaces that could encourage personalized learning. Later called the district’s ‘2020 Vision,’ the final mission statement for Island public schools is, that it will strive to “successfully preparing students for the cognitive, global and digital world.”
Yet that was just the first part of looking ahead. Two other competing goals tempered the effort.
The next step was to evaluate what needed to be done with the existing school buildings. Beginning in 2008, the district initiated the state-required study and survey looking at the existing school buildings. The study and survey is an analysis of the school district’s facilities’ educational program and plans, student population projections, capital finance, operating capabilities and needs for new construction, modernization or replacement of facilities. A consultant’s report completed in 2010 outlined the deteriorating state of Island schools.
The consultant rated the condition of each school building on a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the best score. The scale is intended to quantify the usable life remaining in major building components. A score below 60 indicated to the district that it should undertake a serious examination of replacement or modernization.
The North Mercer campus, built in 1961 and now home to Youth Theatre Northwest and a gym, fared the worst with a score of 35.8 out of 100. Islander Middle School was not far behind with a score of 51.5 out of 100. The district’s remaining five schools, all of which were remodeled in the early to mid-1990s years, scored in the 60 and 70 range. Mercer Island High School, which was remodeled in 1997, received a score of 75 — the best of all district buildings. Island Park Elementary School and West Mercer Elementary School, both of which were remodeled in the past 19 years, have a tied score of 67.5. Lakeridge Elementary School scored 65.4 and Crest Learning Center scored 68.1.
Next, in light of change needed in the learning environment along with deteriorating structures, forecasts showed that enrollment was expected to increase dramatically by 2014. In 2010, schools were already at or near their design and enrollment capacity. Building administrators struggled with how to house students, control flow and schedule lunch periods and breaks.
The school district added more portable classrooms away from the main buildings to accommodate more students. Most do not have restrooms.
In 2008, a demographic study showed that up to 800 new students could be expected within ten years. With this information, school officials and the report on facilities, they formed what they called, the 21st Century Facilities Planning Committee in 2010. That group began work in weighing how the school district should plan for additional space given the state of existing schools and the land available for development. A ‘master plan’ was developed for the so-called mega-block around the high school.
Among many sessions conducted to analyze the next steps, Town Hall meetings were held to listen to concerns around the issues of traffic and congestion in the neighborhoods surrounding the high school. Following those meetings, a citizen 21st Century Facility Advisory Committee was set up to suggest next steps.
It has been a long but fruitful process, Superintendent Plano said.
“The School Board has conducted a very thorough and thoughtful process and has engaged this community in a very transparent way. I feel fortunate to work alongside educators, parents and the wider community who value and supports its public schools.”
Time, however, remains an issue. Since the 2007-2008 school year, enrollment has jumped by 440 students, an increase of more than 11 percent in six years. In 2012, the district’s demographer revised enrollment forecasts. Those forecasts show enrollment levels in 2022 between 4,380 and 4,712, or potentially an additional 400 more students than are presently enrolled.
For more go to www.mercerislandschools.org.