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Report reveals space at MIHS

By Mary L. Grady

Existing under-used gym space at Mercer Island High School could be converted to four classrooms, a consultant has found. Converting these gyms into classrooms and adding offices and storage onto the existing building would cost the district $1.2 million.

A shortage of classrooms and office space currently exists at Mercer Island High School. School architect and consultant BLR+B of Tacoma, was hired to examine the use of classroom space found that four classrooms could be made from the wrestling and gymnastic gyms at the 1,400-plus student school. The gyms, the consultant pointed out, are seldom used during school hours and are busy only a couple of months each year.

The Mercer Island School Board will vote on May 12 whether to continue to consider and participate in the planning of a proposal by the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club and athletic booster groups to build a teen center, classrooms and sports facility on the school district campus adjacent to Mercer Island High School. The concept has several names: PEAK, the North Mercer project or the Boys & Girls Club proposal. If the district chooses to participate in the project, the Boys & Girls Club hopes the school district will contribute $2 million to the cost of the facility.

At a study session last Thursday evening, the School Board heard how such a proposal might fit in with school space needs and the physical constraints of the campus site.

An important reason the school district is considering the proposal is to gain more classroom space for its students. The district also wished to help offer a place and activities for youth. More gym space for high school athletics was also a plus.

BRL+B was hired to see if: ``There is a an opportunity or synergy that exists that would make sense for the high school to participate in the Boys & Girls Club proposal,'' said consultant Tom Bates .

The consultant interviewed teachers and administrators at the high school and computed utilization ratios that calculated how much the existing space is used during school hours.

After reviewing the school schedule, the consultant concluded the existing schedule worked well despite less than optimal conditions.

``We were surprised to see how efficiently the staff used their classroom space,'' Bates said.

Bates said that within the existing high school building, classrooms and teachers' office space was used at greater than 90 percent of the time for science classes, the humanities department and arts and music departments.

``The optimal utilization of space for most schools in core classes, is about 71 percent,'' Bates said.

In the humanities department, the consultant found that 25 teachers, some of which are part-time, are sharing 14 teaching stations. Bates explained.

``The teachers are moving so much,'' he said. ``Some move (to classrooms) two to four times each day.''

Storage and other facilities are in short supply in the music, arts and science departments. The consultant also found a need for an additional performing arts space that could be used for performances, classes or community events. A performing arts addition could be added to the north side of the school and the existing performing arts stage and would cost roughly $1.08 million.

Two possible sites were identified for the PEAK project that would hold three to four gymnasiums, a teen center with space for community uses such as a day care. Such a building would have a footprint of approximately 40,000 square feet.

The field adjacent to the north-end zone of the stadium is one option. A second option is a wedge-shaped site between the school district transportation building and the CHILD school. Each proposal would generate a need for 110 to 150 parking spaces, a portion of which could be found by re-striping or redesigning existing parking areas.

Traffic and parking will be the Achilles heel of the project, said one designer.

Adding any more paving to the site will create other problems as the property is already close to the maximum amount of impervious surface allowed by the city.

The Boys & Girls Club, along with Island athletic boosters are hoping that the school district and the city will see the benefit of having a teen and community facility. The central location and a partnership with the school district seems ideal.

``We want to go where the kids are,'' said Todd Bale of the club and their proposal to move to the site. ``We are always working on how to engage kids.''

The club offers the nearly-complete Federal Way Boys & Girls Club as an example as how different community agencies can work together to serve youth.

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