UPDATE: School District Seeks to Buy Redeemer Lutheran Church, Stevenson Property in Land Deal

The Mercer Island School Board approved the land deal for over seven acres of land for a new Island Park Elementary School, and also approved participation in the Voters' Pamphlet, reversing an earlier decision.

Update, Friday, March 2, 11:15 a.m.:

Interim Pastor Gene Baade responded to this story by emailing his reaction. The following is an unedited email sent to Mercer Island Patch:

"The story seems to me to imply that Redeemer is an active party to negotiating a price.  It suggests that Redeemer has made an agreement, formally or tacitly, to sell if the price is right.    That is not correct.   We have not done so (made any agreement to sell), nor are we negotiating with MISD for a “fair market price.”  The school district may be stating its position in the resolution, but it does not reflect Redeemer’s position, past or present, at all.  That resolution statement was not crafted by Redeemer, and it does not appear to have in mind Redeemer’s interests as a constituted local community of faith within a national church body.

Thank you,

Pastor Baade, Interim Pastor, Redeemer Lutheran Church"


Original: Moving forward on school bond plans to acquire more real estate for a growing student population, the Mercer Island School Board approved unanimously the purchase of two parcels of land to serve as the new home of at a March 1 special meeting.

The real estate deal involves two properties just south of : The  Church, which is still under negotiation for a "fair market price" and the , agreed to in principle for $5.95 million. The was the home to the last family-run horse barn on Mercer Island until early last year (the is a cooperative horse barn). 

The land deal is contingent on the purchase of both properties.

Superintendent Gary Plano told the board that the property would be used as the new home of Island Park Elementary School, giving the school district the option of using the current building as a swing school while rebuilding the other district schools as planned on April's Special Election ballot.

The school board also voted unanimously to reverse their decision to in the King County Elections Voters' Pamphlet at a cost of $3,000, and have appointed pro and con committees. They must submit their statements by March 2 and rebuttals by March 5 to King County Elections in order to be included in the voters' guide.

The Mercer Island School District issued the following press release immediately following the conclusion of the meeting:

The Mercer Island School District’s Board of Directors voted on March 1, 2012 to authorize School Superintendent, Dr. Gary Plano, to sign a contract to purchase land known as Stevenson Property and to continue negotiations with the Redeemer Lutheran Church of Mercer Island for their property.

Both parcels will relocate Island Park Elementary School to provide for better school placement and to improve traffic flow on Island Crest Way.  This relocation will also enable the 'old' Island Park building to potentially be used as a swing school, enabling some student offloading during construction of the remaining three schools.

This is a rare opportunity to purchase a large Mercer Island property, which is needed for future planning flexibility since the district does not have sufficient land today.  Once Island Park is re-sited and construction completed on the remaining schools, the 'old' Island Park site can be repurposed for district use for a variety of purposes to be determined with public input at that time.

The school district’s purchase of these properties addresses a critical need for additional land, that was confirmed by the 21st Century Facilities Planning Committee. This land purchase increases the public use of property on Mercer Island.

This is a Breaking News Story. Mercer Island Patch will post more information as it becomes available.

(Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story's headline misstated that the Redeemer Lutheran Church property was purchased. The MISD is still in negotiations for a final sale price. The name of church was also out of order and has since been corrected. Mercer Island Patch regrets the errors.)

Robert B. Brown March 13, 2012 at 03:43 AM
On the issue of the remodeling costs, according to a CMIPS document released today, remodeling was rejected for the "80-130%" cost of a tear-down. However, the only source they cite, Lake Washington SD, had their own independent studies and much of the costs associated with a remodel had to do with asbestos removal, the addition of insulation to all walls and ceilings, and the fact that they were well below many energy codes. On the other hand, our school district did not get a professional analysis by a construction agency as recommended, only a District-made "Feasible Construction Options" sheet. In addition, "Remodel with Expansion" is shown to be feasible for IMS. As said by others earlier, Stevenson's is an undeveloped land, and judging by some neighbor's responses, not preferred as a school site. This makes the land not suitable for Environmental or Neighborhood Quality, per the "Impact Identification". The only reason the principals support the three-school configuration is because they believe that it reduces competition between who attends what school. Mr. Sharples writes that his children "may never occupy the new facilities", but in a CMIPS video released earlier this week he stated that he had "two incoming Kindergartners"; they would definitely be able to attend the new schools. Asides from this, the district recently released their newsletter, concerning the bond:http://misd.k12.wa.us/news/districtnews/Dist%20News%20March%208.5x112012.pdf
Claus Jensen March 13, 2012 at 04:11 PM
It appears that the school district's newsletter is designed to be mailed (at taxpayer expense) to all residents of Mercer Island. Since the newsletter promotes the school board's "Pro" viewpoint, I am wondering why the "Con" viewpoint should not merit a newsletter to all residents? Seems only fair to me!
Cliff Sharples March 13, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Claus, the school district is not allowed to put out a pro or con view point... laws prevent this. They can only send out factual information about the bond components, and any facts related to the facilities they are proposing to modernize. For example, the latest District News does this, but DOES NOT ask people to vote yes. Click here to view: http://www.misd.k12.wa.us/news/districtnews/Dist%20News%20March%208.5x112012.pdf The Committee for Mercer Island Schools (CMIPS or the "Vote Yes" organization) is a sperate organization from the school district and has to raise private funds to send out any mailers, advertisements, etc to get out its message, which is that we support the bond measure, believe it is the right plan for Mercer Island and encourage people to vote yes. You can donate here if you want to help keep Mercer Island schools the best they can be: http://mischoolsyes.org/donate/
Claus Jensen March 13, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Cliff, If you look at my comments earlier in this discussion, you will realize that I oppose this bond and urge fellow senior citizens to vote NO for the reasons I have outlined!
Kendall Watson March 13, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Hi Claus, Thanks for the comments. In our earlier reporting on the School Board's hesitation to participate in the Voters' Pamphlet (http://patch.com/A-rgB4), the superintendent and MISD Exec. Dir. Dean Mack sought to reassure the board that the district newsletter would be fact-based and not take sides. Since the newsletter was already budgeted, it was argued that this was a cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars and a majority of the board agreed. They reconsidered their consensus after a number of voters criticized that decision as lacking an appearance of transparency. This has repeatedly been an issue (transparency) that the board and the MISD have had to deal over a number of years that I've covered them — and are covered in more detail by some critics in the comments here. It is notable, however, that they are responding to these concerns, not limited to these two specific and recent instances: Not only did they reverse their decision on the voters' pamphlet, but they also brought their real estate plans out into the open. This may put the MISD at a disadvantage in bargaining for a "fair market price (if they can get back to the table) but at least they are conducting this in the light of day rather than behind closed doors. Irrespective of whether or not the purchase of the Redeemer Lutheran Church property is wise, advocates of open government should applaud the MISD for being open about it when they were not legally required to.
Ira B. Appelman March 13, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Dear Kendall: If the School Board is so interested in "transparency," why do they have so many executive (secret) sessions? They schedule many times the number of executive sessions that the City does. There is no evidence the District has any interest in transparency. The purpose of revealing the Stevenson property deal had nothing to do with transparency. As was obvious from Board discussion at the meeting the deal was revealed, the Board thought public acquisition of the Stevenson property would be seen by Islanders as a big plus and additional reason to vote for the bond issue. Board President Frohnmayer later expressed her surprise that Islanders weren't as enthusiastic as the Board. The Board didn't go into executive (secret) session to obtain a "fair market price," as you suggest. The King County Assessor assesses the Stevenson property at $3 million: http://info.kingcounty.gov/Assessor/eRealProperty/Dashboard.aspx?ParcelNbr=1924059046. According to the District, they have a contract for twice that at $6 million. Unconfirmable rumors indicate that private parties were bidding in the four millions. I am the most prominent open government advocate on Mercer Island. I ran unsuccessfully for City Council on an open government platform. I received the Washington Coalition for Open Government's "Key Award," for my open government efforts. We don't have anything even approaching "open government" either at the City or the School District.
Trevor Hart March 13, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Claus.......I thought Cliff's virtual invitation to have you donate to their cause was quite humorous, although somewhat sarcastic. I'm sure Mr. Sharples well aware of your position on this bond proposal, as do I. Thanks for your involvment and outspokeness to the Board and on the Patch.
Kendall Watson March 13, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I'm familiar with the executive session issue, as I wrote about that back in 2009 at the Mercer Island Reporter (which in turn earned a spirited response from the school district). We both know that "Assessed value" and "Fair Market Price" are usually two very different things (although much less so these days in a depressed housing market — nonetheless, how many 5 acre parcels of land are for sale on MI?) But what about the church property, why come out now with the land deal before they have a contract? This is an unusual step for local government to take when seeking the purchase of land (I see you've got a theory on that).
Ira B. Appelman March 13, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Dear Kendall: I think the evidence supports the conclusion that by going public the District was trying to bully the Church into selling. Part of this bullying effort was to announce the Stevenson deal, WHICH THE DISTRICT MADE CLEAR WAS CONTINGENT ON THE CHURCH SELLING. The CONTINGENT nature of the deal was very prominent in the District's presentation (though later they dropped it and claimed they would purchase the Stevenson property anyway). The District's tactics made it appear that the Church would be to "blame" for the Stevenson deal falling through. What hasn't been reported is that Dr. Plano threatened that the District has the power of eminent domain and could condemn property (though Dr. Plano claimed the District has a policy against this for political reasons). Neither the District nor anyone else has been able to produce a single shred of evidence that the Church has any interest in selling to the District or has ever had any interest. The Church isn't returning Dr. Plano's telephone calls. Selling appears to mean oblivion for the Church since it has nowhere else to go on the Island. All of the School Board's discussions of their elaborate strategy have been in executive (secret) sessions. Is that transparency?
Kendall Watson March 13, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Well, I have to say I simply don't know if your hypothesis is correct. I would note that much of what you theorize is also technically legal: RCW 42.30.110 (1)(b) allows them to "consider the selection of a site or the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price" in executive session — away from public view. But if you're for complete transparency then I'm not sure how you would support this exception to the Open Public Meetings Act. All I know is what they said at the meeting. I'm finally getting around to writing that up and will include your comments from that meeting in the story. RE: Eminent domain — I have confirmed in off-record conversations that eminent domain is a power the MISD could use but — as you say — has decided against using unless the situation deteriorates to the point where they can't legally fulfill their duties as a school district.
Ira B. Appelman March 13, 2012 at 09:23 PM
I am continually amazed that this sort of "impassioned boosterism" is acceptable in an educated community. Mr. Sharples claims that when the plan is completed, "I truly believe Mercer Island will be the best public school system in the Nation..." No basis for comparing our District to the rest of the thousands of Districts in the United States is given, but this type of exaggeration is common among the boosters. I raise the following reservations about the so-call plan: (1) THERE IS NO PLAN. It is true that the Committee (21CFPC) produced something that could be called a plan, but the School Board hasn't adopted any plan. In fact, the Board has made clear that since the bonds would be sold over seven years (and half the Board members run for office every two years), there could be three or four different Boards deciding how the funds are spent; (2) The $200 million is ONLY A DOWN PAYMENT on the "plan." Virtually none of the funds goes to anything that will happen on the megablock except Master Planning. It will probably cost AT LEAST another $200 million in the next phase. The District has maintained for years that the Ad Building must be replaced. Demolishing and rebuilding the high school will probably cost between $100-$150 million (if the middle school cost $75 million as they say). Crest needs to be replaced. And we need a first class football/soccer/track and field stadium to go along with the three basketball courts masquerading as the B&G Club.
Jeffrey Black March 14, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Eminent domain? Island lawyers say that's a huge bluff. MISD would never seize the property of a church and force it off its own land. A public relations disaster. Nor could MISD argue that it needs the land. It already has an enviable site at Island Park Elementary. What situation is "deteriorating" there? I'm amused to discover why the Mercer Island Reporter poll on the $196 million bond got so many YES votes--when the poll on the purchase of the Stevenson farm has a 61 percent NO vote. Island Park PTA created a page just to urge voters to vote yes. http://www.islandparkpta.org/ptacorner/advocacy/actionalertmercerislandreporterschoolbondpol That page says nothing about: 1. Shutting down of Island Park Elementary as a grade school. 2. Island Park being used as a swing school. 3. Island Park being used as a possible bus transit center. 4. The creation of a new school on the Redeemer/Stevenson property. If you click on the district tab to get more information, then you learn that the district wants to rebuild three (3) new elementary schools. Nothing about building a new school on the farm site or shutting down Island Crest elementary, no mention of a bus transit center. Certainly nothing about pressuring Redeemer Lutheran to leave the community. As far as voting on the poll, the only option the PTA offers is YES.
Jeff Henders March 14, 2012 at 07:39 AM
I'm amazed people actually think this will make traffic better. There's a bridge in Brooklyn the School District might want to buy. I hear it has a good price. What a joke.
Jeff Henders March 14, 2012 at 07:47 AM
Never underestimate the inability of overzealous and annoyingly ignorant white upper middle class suburban parents to think they know what's good for the community but really have no idea what they're talking about. First, Island Park is much more optimized for traffic. It's going to make traffic much worse, so please just stop the nonsense, you have no idea what you're talking about. This honestly might be the stupidest plan I've ever seen. Literally. Ever. Island Park elementary is in a perfect location already, with plenty of space to remodel or add another building. They could add another story to the elementary school without ruining traffic on island crest and create a cesspool by the Church.
Jeff Henders March 14, 2012 at 07:49 AM
The future of having great schools on Mercer Island does not at all depend on putting a piece of property on this crappy new piece of land.
Jeff Henders March 14, 2012 at 07:53 AM
No, that's not what is happening here. Sorry. This is about a bad city planning a putting a building that is going to create a disaster. Great schools comes from great teachers, communities, faculty and parents. Not a crappy two story building in the middle of Island Crest. All they did was make a crappy proposal.
Claus Jensen March 14, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Did this comment get deleted? If so, why? Jeff Henders 12:47 am on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 Never underestimate the inability of overzealous and annoyingly ignorant white upper middle class suburban parents to think they know what's good for the community but really have no idea what they're talking about. First, Island Park is much more optimized for traffic. It's going to make traffic much worse, so please just stop the nonsense, you have no idea what you're talking about. This honestly might be the stupidest plan I've ever seen. Literally. Ever. Island Park elementary is in a perfect location already, with plenty of space to remodel or add another building. They could add another story to the elementary school without ruining traffic on island crest and create a cesspool by the Church.
Robert W. Brown March 15, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Before I post my long counter-argument to Kris Kelsay's rebuttal of Mr. Jorgenson's letter, here is the link to the voter's pamphlet information just released concerning Mercer Island Proposition 1: http://your.kingcounty.gov/elections/contests/measureinfo.aspx?cid=40345&eid=1251 Also, to reply to her blog post questioning the "No Campigns" identities, they are all online at their respective websites.
Claus Jensen March 15, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Interesting to see the line-up of political figures endorsing the bond issue. evidently they all know what is "best" for Mercer Island. It might be useful to email these individuals and give them some other viewpoints. I am sure their email addresses are available. Here are their names: Supporters: Attorney General Rob McKenna, Representatives Adam Smith and Jay Inslee, Senator Steve Litzow, Representatives Judy Clibborn and Marcie Maxwell, Mayor Bruce Bassett and five other MI City Council members, King County Executives Dow Constantine and Fred Jarrett, King County Council member Jane Hague, Myra Lupton, Rich Erwin, Maureen Judge, Terry Moreman, Brian Weinstein, Elliot Newman, Carrie George, Ken Glass, Leslie Ferrell, Lisa Eggers, John DeVleming, Debora Boeck, Dirk van der Burch,
Kris Kelsay March 15, 2012 at 02:56 PM
The Stevenson's property has turned into a bit of a lightening rod on this bond issue. I'm especially disappointed that the NO campaign is attempting to use the Stevenson's neighbors and Redeemer as a political pawn in their attempt to fail our important school bond. The deceiving propaganda that is being distributed in the surrounding neighborhoods is using doctored public records requested information to distort reality. You can see the documents that are being distributed and the original documents that came from the district here: www.whatifitfails.wordpress.com.
Ira B. Appelman March 15, 2012 at 04:35 PM
I strongly recommend that Islanders read Kris Kelsay's out-of-control blog at www.whatifitfails.wordpress.com. At this writing, Kelsay falsely claims that I am ciriculating a "doctored document" of the Stevenson property. The document was posted above by me and is EXACTLY THE SAME as the genuine document posted on her blog. Kelsay objects to a red line schematic circulated with the document to show traffic patterns into the sleepy neighborhood behind (west of) the Stevenson property. I didn't draw the schematic, which nevertheless looks like a reasonable attempt to infer traffic patterns. According to Kelsay's blog at this writing, the "doctored document...implies that school traffic would be routed on neighborhood streets which is an outright lie that the district would never consider." Kelsay goes on to make the out-of-control claim that the "use of it [the document] in this context, with added traffic patterns and entrances is quite deceiving--almost criminal, really." I have posted above the explanatory letter provided by Dr. Plano indicating that the document includes "a driveway accessing ... the West (SE 62nd Street) that could provide egress/ingress from this site thereby minimizing traffic onto Island Crest Way..." So, Kelsay's false claims notwithstanding, the District IS considering routing traffic into the neighborhood to the west. As the flaws in the bond issue become more apparent, boosters like Kris Kelsay become more and more out-of-control.
Claus Jensen March 15, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I am sure I am not the only one taking great offense at Kris Kelsay's insulting description of Ira Appleman, who over many years have provided a most valuable service to all Mercer Islanders by his untiring efforts to provide open access and clarity to actions taken by our elected officers. Here is what she said on her blog: Recently, our biggest community bully – Ira Appleman–is piling on and helping fuel this fire. The propaganda that he is circulating to Stevenson neighbors utilizes an image from a public information data request in a way that is purposely deceiving. His doctored document (seen here: Neighborhood Flyer) implies that school traffic would be routed on neighborhood streets which is an outright lie that the district would never consider. In this document, all of the traffic patterns and mapping has been added. I know because I asked our consultant to create the original slide (seen here: original slide) in response to a contention by committee member Michael Finn that schools in Seattle were being built on 3-acre properties. This slide was actually used by the committee to understand and then rule out the feasibility of schools on small properties. The use of it in this context, with added traffic patterns and entrances is quite deceiving—almost criminal, really
Kris Kelsay March 15, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I stand by the comments and ask voters and Mercer Island citizens to make their own decision about the ethics of Mr. Appleman's behavior. The post can be found here: www.whatifitfails.wordpress.org
Kendall Watson March 15, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would kindly request that commenters avoid dragging arguments here that have started on other blogs. I know this is a tremendously important issue for the community, so I humbly suggest that on-topic comments will better serve you and others on Mercer Island Patch. Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Kendall Watson March 15, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Thanks Kris, I appreciate your attempts at trying to re-direct these comments back to your blog. Kind Regards, Kendall
Ira B. Appelman March 15, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Kelsay stands by her false comments that I am circulating a flyer, which I have not; I first saw the flyer on her blog. I am fully aware that when you disagree with the so-called "leaders," they slime you to their friends and acquaintances; Kelsay is willing to publicly question my "ethics" (for not doing what she says I've done: circulate a flyer). So let's review what I did do: I attended a Thursday School Board meeting where Superintendent Plano announced a tentative purchase of the Stevenson property WHICH HE CLAIMED WOULD IMPROVE TRAFFIC FLOW ON ISLAND CREST WAY. The following Monday I made a public records request broadly directed at any records whatsoever the District had on traffic flow or improved traffic flow related to the project to move Island Park Elementary to the Stevenson property. The District responded quickly, providing two pieces of paper by the end of the week (Friday). I have posted both pages above. The slide (photo) shows that traffic will be reduced on Island Crest Way by routing traffic into the sleepy neighborhood to the west via SE 62nd Street, which is what Dr. Plano implied when he first announed the Stevenson purchase. This is what Kelsay claims on her blog is a "lie" and something the "district would never consider." In judging my "ethics," I ask Islanders to consider that I received the WA Coalition for Open Government's Key Award for using the Public Records Act to make records publicly available, as by posting them above.
Trevor Hart March 15, 2012 at 06:55 PM
For those concerned that contributers and developers of websites have not listed their names - we have done so. The Executive Committee for www.not-mi-school-tear-down.com now have their names listed at the bottom of each page of the website.
Blair Destro March 15, 2012 at 07:01 PM
I meant to say Robert Brown, both of you guys have provided invaluable information unseen by those focusing on the Yes side only.
Claus Jensen March 15, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Trevor, Web address is mistyped. Should be www.no-mi-school-tear-down.com
Candace Scarcello Dempsey March 18, 2012 at 09:31 AM
I live in the Stevenson/Island Crest Way neighborhood. We are not pawns. We are horrified that MISD decided to site a school literally in our backyards without consulting us. The Redeemer/Stevenson parcel is too small even to allow a buffer zone. Since MISD already has a beautiful school at Island Park Elementary, only a short distance away, this is a disastrous mistake and needless sacrifice. By all means, build a new school at the same site. That would be logical. So would putting an additional school in the north end, where the growth is. There is no need to wreck a beautiful neighborhood and increase traffic congestion. And, please, don't ask us to pay for it.


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