Questions remain on wisdom of PEAK

James Toomey
Island Forum

Without exception writers who support the PEAK project do not live near the high school and show little concern for the problems that exist in the immediate neighborhood. Those of us who do live there — as well as many others on the Island — do not support this project on the high school campus.

The traffic and parking problems near the High School are well-known, so I won’t dwell on them here. However, recent new traffic studies conclude that the supposed fixes — a traffic signal at 86th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 40th Street and a mandated schedule for the shared parking at the High School campus —won’t fix anything.

The traffic and parking problems alone are more than sufficient reason for this project not to proceed. But less well publicized are significant financial and educational reasons to question the wisdom of PEAK.

The City once committed $1 million to the Boys & Girls Club in exchange for community use of its gym. Although this arrangement was never finalized, the Club still hopes to get this $1 million from the City, even though it is unclear whether community use of the facility is still part of the plan. Citizens have not been provided any written information or agreements about what the City will receive for its tax dollars.

The School District will lease the land to the Boys & Girls Club for a sum rumored to be in the range of $10 to 50 per year for 50 years (essentially a donation of this valuable property). It will also give $1,000,000 to the Boys & Girls Club. (It has already spent more than $80,000 on this project. It is unclear whether this money is part of the $1 million gift.) In exchange, the School District gets the use of a dedicated gym for its wrestling team (a three-month sport involving about 30 students) and part-time use of the other gyms. There may also be facilities for other elective school uses, such as home economics or pottery. These benefits are not vital to the School’s mission or priorities.

In addition, the School District will spend another $1.2 million to add additional classrooms and staff office space at the high school. Is this $2.2 million the best use of School District money in terms of meeting its real educational priorities? Why doesn’t the School District propose a bond issue to raise money for needed educational facilities? The claim by PEAK proponents that it “adds classrooms” is a canard. The taxpayers add the classrooms. None of this information has been subject to public review.

At the School Board meeting of April 19, the agenda included principles for dealing with the anticipated enrollment and budget reductions. In the 2007-2008 school year, $238,000 less revenue is projected. Is this the time to think about giving away school resources?

Despite rumors, this project is not yet a “done deal.” There are commenting periods before the project goes to the Planning Commission for a Conditional Use Permit. We feel that many of the impacts of this project, in its current form, would preclude it from being granted this permit.

Let’s plan a high school campus for the long-term that fits in the neighborhood, with adequate citizen visibility, taking into account the condition and use of the current buildings, projected school enrollment, and the real educational and athletic needs of our high school students.

James Toomey lives in the neighborhood near the high school.

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