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Second phase OK"d - School Board green lights more studies for Boys & Girls Club teen center project

By Ruth Longoria

The Mercer Island School Board voted unanimously to move forward with Phase II of the Boys & Girls Club North Mercer or PEAK project for a multi-million dollar youth facility on school district property adjacent to Mercer Island High School.

Phase II will allow detailed planning and the permitting process to begin. The School Board set up a list of parameters to govern how phase II will be monitored. Within these parameters, outlined in a formal resolution, district has reserved the right to delay or stop the project.

About 40 people attended the regular meeting last Thursday evening. At least a dozen who oppose the plan spoke. Several proponents of the plan,Boys & Girls Club administrators and their staff and athletic boosters, spoke at the meeting.

If the project proceeds, the school district would spend $2 million; $1 million of which would be spent to convert the existing high school gymnastics and wrestling gyms into classrooms and expand office and storage in other parts of the school. It is money some residents said shouldn't be given to a private organization or one segment of the population.

``To just take on one proposal is a little short-sighted,'' said Jeff Bender, an Island parent. ``And what are the parameters of such a partnership?'' he asked, adding that he has heard little from the Boy & Girls Club or the School Board about anticipated environmental impacts or traffic congestion connected with the project.

Other residents expressed concern about the project based on the Boys & Girls Club's apparent inability to follow through with a previous project initiated with the City of Mercer Island last year. The city had committed $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club's current facility based on shared access to a renovation of gymnasium space at the facility and the club's matching the city's funds. That agreement was nullified when the club failed to meet its contract deadlines. The City Council has since agreed to leave unallocated the $1 million and possibly use it for a future youth project. That project may be the Boys & Girls Club plan, if a clear plan is presented, councilmembers agreed during their annual retreat last month.

Lack of organization and a clear plan for the project concerned some residents who spoke at the school board meeting. However, Boys & Girls Club president Patrick Paulich tried to reassure residents and the board, saying that the Boys & Girls Club has a plan and has presented that plan over the past eight months at 17 question and answer sessions with various clubs, schools and organizations across the Island. He also scoffed at concerns voiced that the club would be unable to finance their share of the project. ``The Boys & Girls Club is 2,000 clubs strong. King County (Clubs) have $12 million. This is not a fly-by-night organization,'' Paulich said.

School Board President Pat Braman also attempted to allay concerns that the board was rushing into a decision about the proposed facility.

``This proposal actually came formally to the board in December,'' Braman said. ``It is now the month of May. I feel the board has taken the time to decide.''

The rest of the board seemed to agree, as each board member shared pre-written statements on why they were voting to moving ahead with the project.

``I personally am excited about the potential for this project,'' said board member Leslie Ferrell. ``With the current lack of space at the high school the Boys & Girls Club project would be a much needed alternative to placing portables on the property,'' she said. ``We do need the space. And the stars are aligned at this time.''

Board member John Fry agreed, but stressed the need for the whole community to get behind the project. ``About half the Island is for this and half the Island is against it,'' Fry said. ``I believe both groups are right -- and, both groups are wrong, or haven't figured things out yet.''

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