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.)