Engineers detail Mercer Island school buildings’ decline

A corroded window sill in the Islander Middle School gym sits waiting for repair on May 7. - Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter
A corroded window sill in the Islander Middle School gym sits waiting for repair on May 7.
— image credit: Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter

At the foundation of the Mercer Island School District’s developing “21st Century Facilities Plan” is a list of deteriorating district buildings. Islander Middle School, built in 1958 and remodeled in 1993, does not have a long life expectancy in store. The North Mercer building, currently used by MISD tenants for various purposes, has an even shorter life span. The district administration building is also in dire need of repair. It’s only a matter of time before these structures are razed to the ground and rebuilt. Providing a new home for the growing number of students and administrators who inhabit these buildings is part of the district’s “master plan.”

In 2008, the school district hired BLRB Architects to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of district facilities. BLRB rated the condition of each MISD building on a scale of one to 100. The North Mercer campus, built in 1961, fared worst with a score of 35.8 out of 100. Islander Middle School was not far behind with a score of 51.5 out of 100. The district administration building also showed meager results of 47.4 out of 100.

The district’s remaining five schools, all of which have been remodeled in the past 11 years, scored in the 60 and 70 range. Mercer Island High School, which was remodeled in 1997, received a score of 75 — the best of all district buildings. Island Park Elementary School and West Mercer Elementary School, both of which were remodeled in the past 10 years, have a tied score of 67.5. Lakeridge Elementary School scored 65.4 and Crest Learning Center scored 68.1

Currently, the district is focusing on Islander Middle School. Discussion has centered on moving future middle school students to the North Mercer campus, where a two-story building would be constructed.

During an April 24 town hall meeting on the subject, Plano explained that a new middle school would provide “working spaces that allow students to collaborate and gather in.” This setup adheres to the district’s 2020 vision of “successfully preparing students for the cognitive, global and digital world,” Plano added. The current middle school design offers little space for students to join together in a collaborative learning environment. What’s more, if students were moved to a new North Mercer campus building, they could use the gym and other facilities offered by neighboring PEAK.

Plano reminded Islanders that such a move would not happen for another 10 or more years. Yet enrollment projections — predicting 700 to 800 new students in the next eight years — require that the district starts planning now.

Another benefit of moving IMS students to North Mercer is that it opens up the current South-end school building for temporary purposes while maintaining the status quo of five active schools, Plano said.

“We want to maintain five buildings to avoid opening schools and then closing them. It also allows us to have a spare school,” he said, mentioning the possibility of moving Youth Theatre or Island preschools into the vacated IMS building. “Maintaining five schools is the most cost-effective option.”

When asked how much this plan would cost the district and taxpayers, Plano said that he did not have exact numbers yet.

In the end, he emphasized that “the decision on rebuilding will be made by you.”

Several Islanders at both the April 24 and May 1 town hall meetings asked why the $30 million that the district put into school remodeling over the past 15 years hasn’t lasted longer. Plano explained that “the modernization wasn’t intended to last 30 years.”

“The bonds we have been paying for the 1990s remodels all expire in 2015. The proposal is to have new bonds tagged onto that year,” he said.

The superintendent emphasized that the financial details of the district’s master plan have not yet been studied. Indeed, an actual “plan” has not even been determined.

The district is still in the planning process phase, which includes discussion with the community, city and engineers.

Islander Middle School 2008 BLRB study findings:

• No serious structural concerns.

• The walls, floor, roof and windows of the gym are in “poor condition.”

• HVAC is in “poor condition.”

• Plumbing in the science classrooms is not up to standard.

• Accessibility for cars and students is “severe to non-compliance” with poor vehicular circulation in the parking lot.

North Mercer 2008 BLRB study findings:

• A number of structural concerns exist, including dry rot in the roof, deterioration of walkway, concrete spalling at buttresses, seismically inadequate.

• The walls, roof, windows and trip are in poor condition.

• North Mercer gym in “unsatisfactory condition.”

• Electrical systems are in “poor to unsatisfactory condition.”

• HVAC, plumbing is in “unsatisfactory condition.”

• Accessibility was reported as “severe non-compliance.”

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