Letters to the Editor

Letter | Misperceptions and inaccuracies about school bond

I am writing to address some misperceptions and factual inaccuracies that have been included in recent letters and blog posts about the upcoming Mercer Island Bond Measure.

I was a member of the 21st CPC and am a Professional Real Estate Developer and General Contractor with several hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects under construction. I also understand concepts such as flexible planning, life cycle costing, sustainable design, value engineering and integrated design. There was a diverse group on the committee which included several professionals with technical backgrounds that understood these same concepts including both the benefits and pitfalls.

One assertion that has been made:  “A lot more work needs to be done before we know with certainty what a middle school will really cost."  This is not true.  The 21st CPC spent many hours with professionals in Architecture, Engineering, School Design and Educational Theory. Additionally, the School District Staff and Leadership were fully engaged in the process and did an EXCELLENT job of providing any and all information we requested.

We know the approximate cost of schools because they are built all the time. It's not rocket science.  It's very easy to benchmark costs against recent state of the art schools built in Seattle, Bellevue and other Districts. Factor in an escalation percentage and one can reasonably expect what the plan will cost.

A second, related assertion is that the detailed planning has not been done.  Here is the dilemma in a nutshell: When I develop a project professionally, I spend big dollars upfront to do all the feasibility work and public outreach. In contrast, a school district does not have that luxury because if the Bond gets voted down, the district has now squandered millions of dollars and has nothing to show for it. So they try and mitigate that risk. It’s not a perfect system but unfortunately that’s how the system has to work.

A third assertion is that this plan is being developed with insufficient Full Island and long term planning.

During the 12+ months of in depth study, we thought about the Island in a holistic way and specifically concluded after much thought that it was in the best interest of this community that the schools continue to remain in their general location.   We clearly recognized that our endeavor was to a.) solve a short term problem of overcrowding and b) put forth a long term plan that did indeed encompass a 50 year life cycle and was flexible enough to adapt to the changes in learning and state mandates that will inevitably occur.

It is precisely for these reasons we are putting forth a long term ambitious plan. The cost of money is at a historic low and now is the time to embark on this bold, fiscally responsible, long term plan. The world today is a much different one than we grew up in. Our kids are growing up in a globalized, decentralized world where everyone is competing for a better way of life. History has shown that the way to maintain upward mobility, success and stable local communities is Education.

The questions being asked by the community are valid. Ultimately it comes down to faith in the work the committee has done and the competency of District staff and Leadership. I am personally comfortable with all of that.  Couple it with a zealous citizenry and I have no doubt that should the bond pass we will get a process and outcome done the proper way and schools we can all be proud of.

The only way we will continue to attract top teachers, professional educators and great families is to provide first rate facilities....you can argue about the short term implications but long term this is an indisputable fact.

We believe a Vote of Yes in Support of this plan gives our local Mercer Island community that precise ability for the next 50 years.

Greg Steinhauer

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