News

Board decision on proposal in April - New BGC facility would not open until 2007

By Mary L. Grady

The Mercer Island School Board will decide in 60 days whether or not to participate in a $14 million multi-use youth and athletic facility with the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club and the City of Mercer Island.

The proposal is to build new classrooms, a field house and teen center with the city and the Boys & Girls Club on the North Mercer property adjacent to the high school. However, any involvement by the city is yet to be defined. The city has yet to make any public statements about the project.

A group of Island athletic boosters led by Blair Rasmussen, along with the Boys & Girls Club, initiated the plan pointing to a lack of facilities for sports and youth on the Island. The club will sell its existing building and the land on West Mercer Way to help finance its portion of the project. Private donations already being solicited will also help pay for the project.

The school district, which owns the North Mercer property, needs additional classrooms to ease overcrowding at the high school.

The 60 day period is to allow more definitive design and planning to take place before the board votes whether or not to proceed. If the board votes yes, it is estimated that the facility would open in the fall of 2007. Initial discussions about the project had centered on a fast-track approval and permit process to achieve a 2006 opening to ease crowding for students and staff as soon as possible.

The property, which includes other buildings leased to private tenants, has been held in reserve by the district in the event that other buildings or land may be needed for a school. Those tenants include a special needs school, CHILD, Youth Theatre Northwest and Country Village Day School.

Alarmed and surprised by a drawing that indicated a parking lot would replace a wooded school playground, parents and representatives from Country Village Day School crowded the School Board meeting in late December to voice their concerns. At the meeting last Thursday, two Country Village board members again came to the meeting to tell School Board members that they hope the school and its playground will be preserved.

Jay Terry, of the preschool's board said that he was concerned that 60 days would not be an adequate amount of time to design or assess the feasibility and impacts of the project.

``The timeline seems to be short,'' he said, adding that he hoped the community would be involved in some of the details.

The board and Associate Superintendent Michael Ziara sought to reassure the preschool representatives, reiterating that they will work with them to ensure that a playground will be provided for the school.

The district needs the revenues from leases with Country Village and other tenants to help pay for the project, Ziara said.

Mercer Island Historical Society co-president Phil Flash told the board that he hoped that some way could be found to preserve the old East Seattle School and its relatively new gymnasium. The East Seattle School, he said, is one of the few remaining historical structures on the Island. The building, which currently houses the Boys & Girls Club, was built in 1914.

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