Island lags behind in updating schools

The Mercer Island School District is asking Island voters to approve a $98.8 million bond to pay for a new elementary school and make changes to Mercer Island High School and Islander Middle School. District officials say that the schools are overcrowded and facilities need to be updated to respond to the needs of 21st Century students.

No major construction projects, such as building a new school, have taken place within the school district since the rebuilding of Mercer Island High School was completed in 1998. The last major improvement to a school was the $3.4 million expansion of the music rooms at Mercer Island High School, completed last year.

While support of public schools from the Island community remains high, capital spending on new facilities has remained flat. Since 2002, Mercer Island voters have approved a total of $43.5 million for capital improvements from ballot issues passed in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010; an amount that represents an investment of just over $10,000 per student.

In 2010, the school district received approval from voters for a $25 million capital improvement levy, more than $12.2 million of which was designated for technology upgrades.

The non-technology capital portion of the 2010 bond was spent in part for the following items:

$206,000 for security upgrades, $262,000 for paving and resurfacing costs, $3.4 million for a new band wing at the high school, $705,000 in new energy upgrades that include new boilers and energy efficient lighting investments, $764,000 for new turf at the high school stadium, $55,000 for locker room upgrades and $80,000 for Mary Wayte Pool, $27,000 for the South Mercer Playfields and $85,000 for a special education bathroom and other projects.

Over the last few years, the school district has spent $1 million for new portables.

Meanwhile other school districts have been investing steadily in new facilities.

The Bellevue School District and the Mercer Island School District both often found in top ten lists for student achievement. There are many differences. Bellevue Schools have a highly diverse population and have grown significantly in enrollment in the past several years.

Enrollment in the Bellevue School District is presently 18,350 students. Since 2003, capital levies passed by Bellevue voters have paid for or, are slated to pay for, $800 million of capital improvements at 19 schools. To date, those improvements include $85 million for the expansion and remodeling at Bellevue High School; $125 million budgeted for Sammamish High School and $53.8 million for Tyee Middle School.

That amount represents an investment of $43,000 per student.

The Vashon School District is in the process of  completing a new high school to serve 535 students in grades 9 through 12.

The cost, approved by Vashon Island voters, is $47 million.


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