Committee approves $518 million bond proposal for Issaquah schools

June 4, 2015

By Neil Pierson

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A committee of parents, principals and other educational leaders has approved a plan that would ask Issaquah School District voters for more than a half-billion dollars to build four new schools and modernize several others.

At a May 6 meeting, the district’s bond feasibility and development committee approved a package that would raise $518.5 million in voter-approved funds. The bond measure would likely appear on ballots in spring 2016.

The final item to be added to the proposal is a big one: $120 million for a fourth comprehensive high school. The school would likely be built for a core population of 1,500 – smaller than Skyline and Issaquah high schools, but bigger than Liberty, which finished an expansion and modernization project last year.

Another $148.5 million would go toward building a new middle school and two new elementary schools. That would give the district a total of six middle schools and 17 elementary schools.

Superintendent Ron Thiele said locations haven’t been chosen for any of the new schools, and the Issaquah School Board would likely discuss those specifics in a private executive session to avoid a possible spike in real estate prices.

Thiele is expected to review the proposal, and the school board will likely set its own timeline for bringing a bond measure to a public vote.

The proposal includes $97 million for property acquisition costs. Officials have previously said large plots of land inside the district boundaries are becoming increasingly scarce, and increasingly expensive, going for $1 million to $2 million per acre. The district needs roughly 10 acres to build a new elementary school, 20-25 for a middle school, and 40-45 for a high school.

The plan also calls for expanding and remodeling five elementary schools, two middle schools and the district’s central administration building for a total of $128 million.

The five elementary schools targeted are Cougar Ridge, Discovery, Endeavour, Maple Hills and Sunset. They would each receive facelifts costing $7 million to $9 million. Endeavour, built in 1996, is the newest of those buildings, and has yet to get any major upgrades.

The proposal calls for Pine Lake Middle School to be rebuilt – likely into a multistory building – at a cost of $71 million. Beaver Lake Middle School would get $8.5 million for more minor upgrades.

Expanding the district’s administration building for $7.5 million was maybe the most debated portion of the plan.

Jake Kuper, Issaquah’s chief of finance and operations, said the space is not meeting current needs. With the district expecting to add 1,500 to 2,000 students in the next five years, more central staff will need to be hired, and the building doesn’t have the space to house them.

The committee looked at the possibility of leasing additional administrative space, but believed expanding a district-owned building would be more cost-effective in the long run.

Kuper said Issaquah has “the lowest overhead in King County,” spending about 2.5 percent less on administrative costs per student than the average school district. Along with more office space, the district would like to add room for large meetings, such as professional development conferences, which are often being held at neighboring schools because the board room isn’t big enough.

“That’s one goal as well, is to stop encroaching on our neighboring buildings,” Kuper said. “This facility is just maxed out from a usage standpoint.”

Issaquah is already using more than 100 portable classrooms — every school has at least one — and the bond proposal would spend $6 million on more.

Of the remaining funds, $1 million would purchase land to expand the district’s transportation facilities, $6 million would go toward project management needs, and $12 million would be set aside for contingencies and a reserve fund for future projects.

Every Issaquah school had a parent representative on the committee, which held three meetings, and the group reached a consensus quickly enough that a meeting scheduled for May 20 won’t need to take place.

Jonathan Grudin, who has children attending Pacific Cascade Middle School and Issaquah High School, said he was impressed with the foresight and research district officials put into their proposals.

“This is a controversial issue, because there are people in here who are very skeptical of government, and yet …everybody was convinced that this was the right thing to do,” Grudin said.

Committee members Dawn Peschek and Alicia Veevaert, who co-chair the Volunteers for Issaquah Schools group, also see needs in and around their children’s schools.

Peschek, who has children at Maple Hills Elementary and Maywood Middle School, indicated there’s an issue of maintaining equity for all students.

“It’s still a nice school … but it needs to be upgraded,” she said of Maple Hills. “It’s old. It’s from 1969. So it’s time, and the other schools in the area have been upgraded.”

Veevaert, whose children attend Pine Lake and Skyline, said she was excited to see Pine Lake addressed in the new proposal, since it was a late cut from the district’s 2012 bond       measure.

“You look around Sammamish, you look around down here in the corridor, downtown Issaquah, and you can’t help but notice that we’re already outgrowing our schools,” Veevaert said.

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