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Mercer Island School Board Puts $196M Bond on April Ballot

The measure will rebuild four larger schools, modernize Mary Wayte Pool and some MIHS faciliities, and set aside money for land intended for a 4th elementary school. The MISD also said it is abandoning plans to purchase land for a new school bus lot.

The Mercer Island School Board approved a draft plan to put a single $196,275,000 construction bond issue to a public vote on the April ballot at a Jan. 26 public hearing at the Mercer Island School District board room.

The board passed the single bond measure on a 4-1 vote to rebuild larger elementary and middle schools, modernize Mary Wayte Pool and some MIHS faciliities, design a master plan for the North Mercer campus and set aside money for land intended for a fourth elementary school (more details of the plan can be found by clicking on the PDF image of plans to the right).

The board must bring the plan back in the form of a resolution with accompanying language for the ballot and pass it in order to appear on the April 17, 2012 ballot.

"It's not only a capacity issue. It's not only where the buildings are. These schools are built with teachers in classrooms connected by long narrow hallways," said Director Brian Emanuels, who supported the bond. "The way that you used to teach in those classrooms is not what our teachers are doing anymore. They're being held back and it's really limiting their ability to deliver a '21st Century' education. Think how much better they could do in facility designed for '21st Century' learning."

According to school district officials, planning for the school improvements and rebuilding commenced in 2008 with an engineering study of current buildings and a demographic study of the local student population. The study projected that Mercer Island schools will absorb over 800 students by 2020.

The board effecitvely adopted the recommendations made by the MISD 21st Century Planning Committee (21CPFC), a citizen's panel that reviewed issues of school overcrowding, obsolescence and safety. It had recommended the school board to adopt a larger bond for rebuilding all K-8 schools because the relative annual costs to local taxpayers between rebuilding four or five schools or just one or two could be as small as $0.20 per $1,000 of property assessed value. But a minority on the committee also felt the board should buy land and build a fourth elementary school instead of rebuilding three larger elementary schools.

Director Dave Myerson voted against the plan, citing his opposition to enlarging the capacity of individual elementary schools and his preference for four smaller schools.

"A lot of studies out there suggest smaller schools are better, and I think a fourth elementary school property should be purchased." he said. "This requires a much longer conversation ... We are giving the public an 'unbaked cake'."

MISD Executive Director Dean Mack estimated the bond would cost an average local homeowner, based on an assesed value of $1 million, an additional $900-$950 per year for the life of the bonds — expected to be about 25 years.

Local Bond Project Proposals

The proposed bond is intended to pay for the following combination of projects:

  • Acquire a site for School #6, which will allow for flexibility as we rebuild schools and house students
  • Rebuild a new Islander Middle School on the south campus
  • Rebuild three (3) new elementary schools
  • Expand classroom spaces at the high school, including the addition of additional science labs (6-12 classroom expansion)
  • Islander Stadium renovations (new pressbox; concession area; bathrooms; roof overhang; seating)
  • Invest in extending the life of Mary Wayte Pool 10-15 more years
  • Complete master planning of the mega-block (MIHS campus; Administration and Crest; bus lot; and north mercer buildings)

Final authorization of projects to be build with bond funds must be passed by the school board after the bond is approved.

The school district also announced it was abandoning plans for the purchase of a new bus lot near Mercer Island City Hall.

"The site was too small and required the acquisition of more land," said MISD superintendent Gary Plano. "Consequently, the cost of moving busses no longer fit into a sound business model."

(Ed. Note: This story was updated to clarify that the school board must pass a formal resolution to place the measure on the ballot at a subsequent meeting.)

Milford Walker February 17, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Trust is the issue. The school board and administration seem to have experts to suit any occasion. When they wanted us to remodel the schools the experts told us populations would continue to decline. They got their bond passed. They told us the same thing when they convinced the MI citizens to cell Mercer View to the city for a song because the schools would never again need this space (couldn't possibly consider an already owned city property). Besides they said if we are ever in a bind there is always North Mercer. Then came PEAK and the experts told us this would not affect the district's ability to use North Mercer. Now they tell us it is undoable to put the Middle school next to the B&G club. We are supposed to trust the experts again despite a google search showing the 0-4 year old and 5-9 year old populations significantly smaller than the current 10-14 year old population (That's a downward trend). They tell us to add 600 seats we have to spend 195 million dollars. That's over $350,000 a seat or 6.5 million per classroom of 20. Schools that were remodeled are not they same as 50 year old schools after all that's what the experts told us. There are about 8500 households on MI that's close to $25,000 a household if they were spread evenly for 600 seats. What will the "Experts" tell us next to get what they want. Milford Walker
Milford Walker February 17, 2012 at 11:02 PM
PS For the English Professors. Thoughts were expressed free form - sans a grammar review.
Kendall Watson February 18, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Thanks Milford. The current school board has said those decisions were made based on the data they had at the time — so your point is an interesting one. How viable are these forecasts? The 21 CFPC has embraced the projections that have a high level of confidence only up to 2015. So far, the actual enrollments have come in above estimates. I think you're using US Census numbers there, if I'm not mistaken. We did several stories on the numbers as they were released — here's the most relevant one: http://patch.com/A-h6dT From 2000 to 2010, the population of kids 0-4 incresed by 12; 5-9 was down by 79; 10-14 was down by 142; and 15-19 increased by 115. Also, there were 9,109 "households" on Mercer Island on April 1, 2010 (Census Day) — not 8,500. The school district is saying it will cost the homeowner who has an assessed property value of $1 million in 2012 will pay an additional $950 above taxes they're already paying. Hope that helps.
Richard Karnes February 21, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I agree with Milford Walker. If we really need another school (and that's debatable), there is a spare one that the Board has not yet given away: North Mercer Junior High. FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT WORK. Increasing property taxes by around 12 percent for 25 years is not the right way to treat MI citizens --especially retirees.
Robert Browne February 22, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Back in the 40's and 50's, the district was actually closing schools after enrollment peaked, then declined. One such campus is the North Mercer Junior High school, which should be used to as a fourth elementary school. Because it is geographically located near the north by West Mercer, it could house the growing population downtown. Also, the Facilities Master plan says a sixth school, although undecided grade levels. Why would anyone support a bond if they don't even know whether that school would be an elementary, middle, or junior high school? Additionally, in what order would the schools be built? I don't believe that ALL other options were thoroughly looked into. Some ideas that perhaps the 21 CFPC did not come up with (who made the 21 CFPC?) include creating another wing/building at IMS on the area of portables, like the 300 building. The elementary schools have a lot of land, too, and so near the back of a school like Lakeridge, the portable could be replace with another large wing. I also take issue with the fact that a 21 CFPC member replied saying there are no other plots of land, when in fact it is in the plan on the school district website. A minority of the 21 CFPC as well as at least one School Board Director supports a 4th elementary school. Building a fourth elementary school by itself would solve the immediate short term problem, while also not causing disruptions to learning. It is still too early to consider a remodel of the high school.

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