Eric Thuau, head of school at the French American School of Puget Sound (FASPS), said that staff and students have had a positive experience on Mercer Island for the past 23 years, but it’s time for the school to relocate and secure a permanent residence with increased capacity for future growth.
FASPS currently leases the land where the school stands from property owner Stroum Jewish Community Center (JCC) at 3795 E. Mercer Way and its lease will expire in 2029. The school owns nearby land that it hoped to build on, but has faced zoning issues. FASPS’ current leased acreage is 2.844 and the land it owns on the Island stands at 2.5 acres. No immediate plans are on the school’s docket to sell the property.
Thuau said the school needed to start controlling its own destiny now and has purchased a 51,016-square-foot property in Seattle, located at 2203 23rd Ave. S. The North Beacon Hill location is convenient for students and staff since it’s just six miles east of its “nest” on Mercer Island, where they couldn’t find suitable land to purchase for their school placement, he added.
The head of school said they’ve had a wonderful relationship with the JCC and Thuau thanked the organization for its support since the school arrived on the Island in 1999.
He elaborated on what it’s been like to run the school and interact with people on the Island: “I really want to stress that we love Mercer Island. This is a great location and a great community, we’ve been very happy here. It doesn’t mean that we will move for good and that we will not keep anything on Mercer Island. We might stay for some part of the program there. The decision hasn’t been made yet. It’s not like we are fleeing the Island because something went wrong.”
The potential continued Island presence — with the school possibly keeping its lease through 2029 — could include maintaining part of its lower school locally while the other portion of schooling, plus a possible high school, occurs in Seattle. Nothing is set in stone, Thuau said, and they’re going to be creative about the process.
The school, which was launched in the fall of 1995 in a Newcastle church basement, is currently home to 400 students — from 18 months of age through eighth grade — and 100 faculty and staff members. Doubling in size since Thuau came on board 12 years ago, the school currently includes 20%-25% of its students from the Island.
In Seattle, FASPS’ planned highly sustainable campus is slated to include classroom buildings, a gymnasium, a cafeteria, outdoor space for students, administrative offices, and other critical amenities, according to a press release. They are expected to close on the land by Sept. 28, 2022, said Thuau, adding that construction could commence around March 2024 with a potential move-in target of September 2025.
FASPS is teaming up with renowned firms Spectrum Development Solutions, LLC, Mahlum architects and Sellen Construction on its Seattle relocation, Thuau said.
Amy Lavin, JCC chief executive officer, said FASPS has been a phenomenal partner, and she and her organization always wish the school success.
“I’m excited for them to continue to be able to meet their mission, and I recognize that given the challenges that they and we have had here on Mercer Island that the time came where they needed to make a decision to secure their future,” Lavin said.
The Reporter contacted the city for a comment, but one wasn’t available at press time.