By Mary L. Grady
City Council members said they were frustrated with the school district and the Boys & Girls Club during a meeting last week.
The council’s exasperation with the school district stems from the district’s inability to share the Mercer Island High School track and field with the city.
The City of Mercer Island paid $500,000 of the $1.1 million 2003 renovation of the track and field. The city wanted the public to be able to use the facility in return for its contribution.
The city also purchased computer software to manage scheduling the track and field between the school and the city. More than one councilman pointed out that the scheduling has remained unfinished business for five years and has cost $50,000.
“Part of the problem has been at your end of the street,” said councilman Dan Grausz to School Board members, explaining that it was his impression that school staff have been reluctant to schedule non-school use of the facility and use the software.
Superintendent Cyndy Simms said the district is making progress, but added that she wanted to talk with school staff further about the issue.
“But we owe it to our partner, the city, to set a firm date,” she said.
It appears that much of the available non-school use of the track and field use has been taken up by private users. It turns out that some of these private users are coaches and organizers affiliated with the school during the school term, and as such are assumed to be running school activities and receive priority.
“This is giving away a public asset to a private party,” Grausz said.
The track is already entirely booked for the summer months, much of it by clinics and camps that were inadvertently scheduled as school-sponsored events.
Without coming to a date or agreement about the scheduling tangle, the meeting’s attention moved to the proposal called the North Mercer Project, or PEAK project. In addition to a teen center for the Boys & Girls Club, the PEAK project would add classroom and gym space at the district’s North Mercer campus.
The council’s feeling on the matter seemed to be summed up by Mayor Alan Merkle when he said at the outset: “We don’t think we have a role in this (project) beyond granting permits.”
The council appears to be upset that it is assumed it will sign on to the project and donate $1 million — the amount it committed to give to the Boys & Girls Club for renovating its existing building in return for use of its gym for city recreation programs part-time — without any discussion or input from the city.
At least one councilman said that the Boys & Girls Club had begun discussing the new project with the school district while the city was still under the impression that the renovation of the current facility on West Mercer Way was still going ahead.
The City Council has yet to be included in any preliminary design discussions about the project, councilmembers said. In fact, prior to the meeting last week with the district, the council had only one presentation about the project from the Boys & Girls Club, with little detail.
When faced with a go or no-go vote pending for the school district and a sign the city would sign on with the $1 million they had reserved for the club, the council wants to put on the brakes.
“It needs to meet the test of: `Is it good for the community,”’ Merkle said of the project.