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Pool funding extension delayed, timing of school zoning approval critical
Two key elements of the work ahead for the Mercer Island School District have yet to be finalized. The first is the extension of funding to keep the now school district-owned, Mary Wayte Pool, operating. The next, even more crucial issue is the finalization of zoning rules that will allow construction to begin on new school buildings.
Mary Wayte Pool
The City Council declined to vote on a resolution to give the Mercer Island School District additional money to continue running Mary Wayte Pool for the benefit of both the community and high school swim sports teams. Instead, the Council decided to delay a vote until the original agreement - which had been already renewed three times - was reworked and brought up to date.
At the May 5, City Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz, said it was time to "start this one over again," urging that the city staff correct errors and update references.
“This has gotten strange," he said of the document.
Over the last few years, the city has given $100,000 to the school district with $25,000 to be placed in a fund set aside for major repairs. Within the agreements, the school district must also set aside money.
Acknowledging the frailty of the pool, Grausz and the Council want to ensure that funds are in place to undertake any major repairs that may come up. The underlying understanding is that the school district will ask voters for $3 million in an upcoming school district operations and maintenance levy in 2016.
It is the comon sentiment that if the 2016 levy does not pass, the pool will close.
“I’m disappointed that the Council delayed action on passing the Inter-local Agreement for Mary Wayte Pool,” said Plano. The District approved the Agreement on May 1. While we’ve been talking about a long-term agreement for over a year now, the details in the Agreement caused a few hang-ups, but none that would threaten the likelihood of passage. I have confidence in the Council to take swift action to pass the Agreement at their next meeting.
The pool needs major upgrades to meet standards and laws regarding public pools safety and to repair and replace aging components. The School District and the group that operates the pool, Olympic Cascade Aquatics (OCA), has been able to keep the pool working — but barely. There have been breakdowns and emergency closures. The pool was closed for a few days in February last year after a pipe in the pool’s main filtration system broke.
The breakdown took place just before a district high school swim meet that included teams from the greater Puget Sound area to compete at Mary Wayte.
“We have been monitoring the piping system and were prepared for something like this to happen,” said Tony Kuhn, the MISD director of maintenance and operations said then.
At that time, Plano said, “Unfortunately, we are expecting more issues such as this one until we can acquire the funds to either extend the life of the pool, or replace it with a new one.”
All parties agree that major changes are needed to continue operations into the future.
Upgrades and repairs to the pool were part of the February 2012 school bond which failed. The district has covered repairs such as the one that happened in 2013 in the district’s maintenance and operations budget.
As of last year, the School District officially owns the pool. The pool is open to the public and as such, the city shares responsibility for the 42 year old pool, built with 'Forward Thrust bonds' sold through King County in the late 1960s. The expenditures were to expand public services to the growing population of King County beyond Seattle. The County later spun off the aging pools to local jurisdictions throughout the county — similar to the sale of Luther Burbank Park to the City of Mercer Island several years ago.
End of year financial reports for 2013 show that the pool continues to lose money, but less in 2013 than in 2012.
Mayor Bruce Bassett was confident that the update of the agreement between the city and the School District would be accomplished in a short period of time and said, that the Council's understanding was that there was "no time pressure on this issue."
Zoning for schools also unresolved
The City Council will meet tonight (May 14) to further review the proposed p-zone which will allow the school district to move ahead on plans for a fourth elementary school and major remodeling for Islander Middle School and Mercer Island High School.
Superintendent Gary Plano is concerned that the additional time to make changes to the proposed zoning could delay start of construction on Islander Middle School. The School District has already proposed changes to the IMS design to respond to residents in The Lakes neighborhood about the size of the proposed construction and lighting and noise impacts. However, Plano says the construction timeline is short and that any further issues may push the start of the 2016 school term and impact student learning.
Mayor Bassett said that the main obstacle is the concern of the neighborhood over setbacks. He said he believes the changes can be made to get construction underway on schedule.
Dr. Plano is less sanguine.
“District staff and its consultants have had multiple meetings with the Lakes and Island Park neighbors and have continually modified the design scheme and parking plan based on feedback for the IMS project, Plano pointed out. “While I am disappointed in the Planning Commission’s inaction and delays, I am confident that they and the City Council will take action and make the necessary changes to their zoning code to allow the District to build its new facilities that garnered the support of nearly 75 percent of those voting in an historic special election on February 11.”