Editorial | Schools for the future

The process to conduct a comprehensive master plan for school district facilities in the ‘superblock’ surrounding Mercer Island High School is a necessary yet anxiety-inducing process. At stake is the future for our school district, the North Mercer neighborhood and several important community facilities.

The meeting that took place last Saturday and the one this Saturday is to set the stage for a public process to consider the costs and benefits of expanding school facilities within the site, approximately the size of Luther Burbank Park (north of I-90).

A comprehensive plan for the superblock was a condition of the settlement that the district made with high school neighbors that ultimately allowed the construction of PEAK. The first order of business is determining the role of what is termed the North Mercer campus. The list of issues for any change is long. There is traffic, parking, a bus facility and its underground fuel tanks, noise and light. There are longstanding property tenants who provide exceptional and valued services to Island children and their parents. They include the Mary Wayte Pool, Country Village, CHILD and Youth Theatre Northwest.

The North Mercer piece is the keystone for a new facilities plan for the entire school district.

Let there be no mistake that the charge of the Mercer Island School Board of Directors and the district superintendent is to first and foremost provide for the education of public school students (and in the case of very young children, the district’s future students). Such a charge trumps other property uses. Since the district must take a long-term view, such processes must proceed even though the present timing (with its hefty budget deficits) may not seem fortuitous. The present school buildings, while having been extensively remodeled in the 1990s, need major updating and repairs, and are simply not equipped to provide a world class education in the manner that Islanders expect for their children. School administrators are doing their due diligence by planning to provide what children will need to thrive and contribute in a changing world. The district is right to bring in the community as early as possible. They recognize that citizens have a lot to offer — and will ultimately have the final say when they cast their votes on future levies.

The aim of this editorial space is not to look backward. Yet, we cannot refrain from pointing out that a good time to have begun such a plan might have been in the early stages of PEAK more than five years ago. But many things were learned during that process which will no doubt be useful in the months and years to come.

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