Opinion

Piqued interest in the PEAK proposal

By Blair Rasmussen

Island Forum

As many Islanders are aware, the Mercer Island Boys & Girls Club and the Mercer Island School District (MISD) are currently considering an innovative partnership to create a centrally located, modern and comprehensive set of facilities to nourish and develop the academics, athleticism and creativity of our youth and teens. Nicknamed the ``PEAK project,'' the new facilities would be located on the North Mercer campus next to Mercer Island High School. It would include:

? A new ``EX-3'' teen center.

? A new Boys & Girls Club.

? A new, four-gym multi-sport field house.

? New parking and classrooms at MIHS.

I read and respond to 20 e-mails each day related to the PEAK proposal. With all of the issues ongoing on the Island -- reading about the I-90 controversy in the Reporter, the daycare ``crisis,'' Luther Burbank uses, the community center, downtown changes, etc -- I find it can all get quite confusing.

Regardless of my personal feelings on these issues, I've gained newfound respect for elected officials that put themselves into the fray. At times, however, the tone of the rhetoric and the occasional misinformation is disturbing to me.

I find I know many people on all sides of these issues. Because of my own inquiries over the last 18 months related to what's become the PEAK proposal, I've spoken with all of our School Board and City Council members. I've also met with staff members at the school district and city offices. Respectfully, we haven't all agreed on everything. But everyone has been generous with their time, as well as open, honest and even blunt feedback, answering every question I've asked, and in most cases offering feedback and advice.

The PEAK proposal is based on teamwork and finding solutions. The team consists of community volunteers, many with 15-plus years of volunteer service in this community. Where I've had my own problems with the programming options at our local Boys & Girls Club, I've met with local board members looking for solutions. For me, the PEAK project is an outcome of these discussions.

The PEAK proposal requires compromise. The intent is to serve Mercer Island youth. Whether it's through expanded Rainy Day gym, the art room, music sound stage, synergistic programming with Youth Theatre Northwest, recreational Boys & Girls Club athletic programming, or select athletic programming with booster club partners, kids and teens will have something for them at the PEAK.

The PEAK is an opportunity. We can't be all things to all people or solve every perceived problem on Mercer Island. Unfortunately, if we wait or expand the overall cost, I believe this opportunity will go away, and, if ever, will only be resurrected through a community vote or tax increase.

Recently, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel selecting the Youth of the Year for the King County Boys & Girls Clubs. All 12 clubs from the King County area presented candidates. In the presentations, I was struck repeatedly by the impact that an individual -- whether a school teacher or counselor or a staff member from a Boys & Girls Club -- had on each of these kids, and how in some cases their lives were completely turned around from a course that would have been disastrous.

I'm in no way an expert on raising kids, but over the years, I've been a proponent of the 40 Developmental Assets put forth by the Search Institute (http://www.search-institute.org/assets/forty.htm). We tend to look at kids in numbers. I believe it's about programming and proper staffing. The PEAK project is designed to serve all youth and one kid at the same time.

When I coached at Mercer Island High School, I had terrific kid and parental support. I'm sure some people didn't agree with how I did things, but that's coaching. One of my mantras was ``Please phrase your issue in the form of a solution. Don't bring me problems.'' It's simple, yes, but even on Mercer Island this form of respectful dialogue works and in fact, works best.

Islander Blair Rasmussen has been a parent, resident, coach and volunteer on Mercer Island since 1993.

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