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District discusses moving Islander Middle School to North Mercer campus

An aerial shot looks down on Mercer Island High School, facing east.  - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
An aerial shot looks down on Mercer Island High School, facing east.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

The Mercer Island School District, faced with the possibility of a surge in student enrollment over the coming years along with a deteriorating Islander Middle School building, is contemplating taking over the North Mercer campus for classroom facilities. Tentative plans are to move Islander Middle School to the North Mercer campus, which includes the new PEAK building, current CHILD center and its annexed preschools, Youth Theatre Northwest and the Mary Wayte Pool. But before anything definite can be decided, school officials emphasized, the community will be involved.

The idea has been the subject of discussion for some months now and is part of a "master plan" that was required in the settlement which the district signed with North Mercer neighbors in 2008 before moving ahead with PEAK. According to the July 2008 settlement (which was also signed by the City of Mercer Island and the Boys & Girls Club of King County), the neighbors agreed to allow MISD to bring PEAK to 86th Avenue S.E. as long as it provided a "campus master plan of the high school and adjacent facilities within two years." Nearly two years have now passed.

This Saturday, Superintendent Gary Plano will bring the plan to public attention in a town hall meeting with North Mercer neighborhood residents.

Plans to relocate IMS to North Mercer were first discussed in public at the School Board's March 11 meeting.

"We are moving forward with community discussions on how to best house students and provide programs while preparing each student for success in the cognitive, global and digital world of the 21st century," the School Board's "Facility Planning Process Update" read. "Phase 1 of the process will address the North Mercer campus and how to best meet the needs of middle school students."

Asked just how much growth MISD administrators are expecting in the coming years, Business Services and Human Resources Executive Director Dean Mack said approximately 700 to 800 new students in the next eight years.

"That's 30 classrooms. We already have 20 something portables, so we're short about 50 classrooms in total," Mack said. "We need a long-range plan to house students at all grade levels."

Superintendent Gary Plano emphasized that a definitive plan has not yet been made. First, the district must open dialogue with the community.

"The most important [concept to get across] is that we don't have a plan yet. The first step is to go to the residents and say, 'Given our demographics, it's likely that we'll repurpose that [North Mercer] land to K-12 use again sometime in this decade,'" Plano said. "We've learned through the PEAK [process] that not involving the community in the early stages has presented problems to us. We're inviting the community to help us think through our facilities' needs."

The current "master plan" includes two phases: phase one addresses the North Mercer Campus and phase two integrates "elementary, housing and program solutions, an administration campus, including buses and address needs at the high school level."

School Board President Adair Dingle said that it was "still premature" for the School Board to comment on proposals to move IMS to the North Mercer campus. Yet she added that the School Board has considered both sides of the issue.

"Daycare is an essential resource. Youth Theatre Northwest is a valuable resource. The board values these facilities, but we're charged with ensuring the best instruction for K through 12," Dingle said.

Residents are invited to attend the 9 a.m. town hall meeting to learn more about district plans while sharing their own opinions. The meeting, held in the MIHS Commons, is not closed to Islanders outside of the "North Mercer block," although an all-Island town hall meeting on the subject is scheduled for Saturday, May 1.

For more information, visit: www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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