By Brad Rorem
The Mercer Island community has long been devoted to education. But to develop well-rounded, responsible adults who will become contributors to society, we need to provide more than challenges in the classroom. Kids must be engaged in meaningful activities after school and on the weekends, and studies indicate that kids need more of a connection with adults in the community.
The Boys & Girls Club currently provides the bulk of after-school and weekend programs available to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and it offers opportunities for high school kids to interact with younger kids and responsible adults in a positive environment. The Boys & Girls Club needs a new facility to continue and expand its programs for kids.
It has proposed developing a new facility at the North Mercer campus. The facility, known as PEAK (A Positive Place for Enrichment, Activities and Kinship), would serve all Mercer Island kids through high school. PEAK would include a learning center, computer lab, arts and crafts room, games room, multi-purpose space, classrooms and administrative offices.
PEAK would also include a multi-purpose field house and an “EX3” teen center with a learning lounge, music studio, cafÃ©, games room and multi-purpose space. Anyone who spends time with teens knows that they want and need a place to connect with friends and engage in fun activities. Island teens currently connect at grocery stores or fast-food restaurants, and parents are left to hope their kids will make good decisions when they seek excitement in the evening. The EX3 teen center would be a place where kids could socialize in a safe and positive environment.
Proponents of the field house have determined that Mercer Island has less gym space now than it did 30 years ago, yet the demand for gym time continues to grow. Participation in sports by girls has increased dramatically in the last decade as a result of Title IX and increased awareness of the benefits of athletic participation for girls. We do not have sufficient gym space to meet the needs of all participants.
The School Board and city should enthusiastically support PEAK. Athletic programs on the Island used to be provided by the junior high schools and the city Parks and Recreation Department. But when North Mercer Junior High was closed, and when the middle school was created, most athletic programs were dropped. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has also eliminated programs for kids. The Boys & Girls Club and other organizations have been forced to take over responsibility for the programs. Although the schools and the city likely had good reasons for dropping sports programs, they should do everything possible to provide sufficient facilities for continued operation of those programs.
The only objection raised so far to PEAK concerns the future of the East Seattle School where the Boys & Girls Club currently operates. Phil Flash, co-president of the Mercer Island Historical Society, wants the club to remain at its current location so that the building is not compromised. But the Boys & Girls Club should not bear the burden of preserving a building that does not serve its needs, and it would be wrong to put the historical value of a building ahead of the Boys & Girls Club’s desire to maximize its service to kids and the community. The future of the East Seattle building and its adjacent T-ball field is a separate issue that can be addressed by the community when it is ripe.
We need to support the Boys & Girls Club’s plan to develop new facilities serving Mercer Island kids. Attendance at school alone is insufficient to develop kids into well-rounded adults prepared to contribute to society. The community needs to work with the Boys & Girls Club to provide positive opportunities for kids to grow and learn. We need PEAK to facilitate those opportunities. The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its meeting April 26.
Brad Rorem is a Mercer Island resident.