School Board tells tenants, time to go

The Mercer Island School District issued tenants of its North Mercer campus on Friday, Feb. 28 a 180-day notice that its lease agreement will terminate Aug. 31.

Currently occupying the space are day schools Little Acorn and Country Village, as well as Children’s Institute for Learning Differences (CHILD). Youth Theatre Northwest, also located on the campus, announced their plans to move late last month.

“It was a difficult decision for the board,” said boardmember Pat Braman of the decision not to extend the leases. “We understand the needs of the tenants, but we were clear as landlords that we need that property.”

Representatives of Little Acorn, Country Village and CHILD requested lease extensions at the Feb. 27 school board meeting. Representatives of CHILD and Country Village asked the board to extend the agreements to as late as Dec. 31. But for reasons including adequate time to complete the project and minimizing construction costs, the board decided against the extensions.

“You can talk to anybody who’s done a home remodel, even if things go well, it goes longer than expected,” said Brandy Fox, who is managing the construction project.”

School district officials say the move shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. “I’m a property manager and I have been since the early ‘90s,” Braman said. “You have to be sure that everything is really clear, and our superintendent and staff have made it really clear all along,” she said.

MISD chief operating and financial officer Dean Mack said the district has always been very concerned for the tenants, and informed them five years ago that when the district would need the property, it would be repurposed and they should start looking around for other properties.

“Even though we give six-months notice at this point, it’s really just perfunctory,” Mack said.

From 2003 to 2008, Country Village and CHILD both had five-year leases, which were converted to two-year leases from 2008 to 2010. Little Acorn and Youth Theatre Northwest both had five-year leases running from Sep. 2005 to Aug. 2010. In 2010, with an eye on eventually taking back the land for a new school, each lease was extended for just one year. They now end Aug. 31.

“We were taken a little bit by surprise that two of the three asked for December extensions,” Braman said.

“It’s been a process and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. All the groups had committees looking for sites and I know Dr. Plano has worked very hard to come up with alternatives that would help not only the district, but also the tenants.”

Mack said the district is working with all the tenants to find a workable space with help from the mayor and city manager and to make those transitions  as easy as possible.

Having a new location already, Youth Theatre Northwest proposed construction begin on their building so the tenants in the other building might be able to stick around longer. But asbestos abatement taking place during the remodel wouldn’t allow that option.

As a mother who sent her children to daycare, Braman said she sympathizes with the North Mercer tenants and their families.

“I was a working mother, and we understand how important [child care] is. We want to make sure we protect that too,” she said of those services.

“But we look at the 1,750 elementary school kids we serve. Our responsibility is to those 1,750 kids first.”


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