Mar 162016

Issaquah Press – March 16, 2016

New bond issue arrived ahead of schedule, but officials say waiting wasn’t practical

By Tom Corrigan

In April 2012, about 70 percent of Issaquah School District voters approved a $219 million bond package to fund capital projects throughout the district.

Some of those projects are still underway, such as the new $19.5 million Clark Elementary School and the related rebuilding of Issaquah Middle School for $64 million.

Even as that work moves forward, the district is asking for approval of a $533 million bond package that, among other things, will fund a fourth district high school, a sixth middle school and two new elementary schools – Nos. 16 and 17.

Back in 2012, district officials advertised that another bond package would not be needed for six years. In talking about the current bond package, Suzanne Weaver, a member of the district board of directors now and in 2012, doesn’t hesitate to admit the district did not reach its goal of waiting for six years to go back to voters. Ultimately, the plan was to line up bond campaigns to fund capital projects with levy campaigns for operating dollars, but that didn’t happen.

“That would have been nice,” Weaver said.

She and others said two key factors led district leaders to believe they just couldn’t wait another two years to float a bond question.

One issue is the residential growth within the district, which inevitably leads to a growing student population. The district grew by more than 2,000 students in the past four years, and what district officials call conservative projections show an additional 1,500 to 2,000 new students walking through school doors in the next five years. Calls for smaller class sizes and all day kindergarten are also adding to the need for additional space. Weaver said all-day kindergarten means 16 additional classrooms will be needed.

By making use of libraries, computer rooms and so on, Weaver said all-day kindergarten would be offered next year with or without passage of the bond package.

The growing scarcity of land available for new schools was another important factor in the decision to go to back to voters this year. Weaver said not only is it getting more difficult to find room for new schools, the property that is available is only getting more and more expensive. One estimate put property acquisition costs at close to $100 million.

One thing that not’s getting more and more expensive is local property taxes, at least not because of schools, said Weaver and Alicia Veevaert, vice-president of Volunteers for Issaquah Schools. VIS is a grassroots group running the bond campaign.

The bond sale will add nothing to district property tax rates, according to information from VIS and the district. However, as previous bonds and debts are paid off, tax rates will not go down.

At present, tax rates sit at about $4.14 per $1,000 in property valuation.

Besides four new buildings, some of the planned projects include a $71 million rebuild of Pine Lake Middle School. An upgrade of Beaver Lake Middle School would run $8.5 million. Five existing elementary schools would be revamped at a cost of

$7 million to $9 million each. The central administration building would get a revamp and expansion with a price tag of $7.5 million.

The bond proceeds also would fund $6 million in portable classrooms, $6 million for project management and a $12 million reserve or contingency fund.

Officials have steadfastly declined to identify where new schools might go. The reason is to avoid sudden price hikes or getting into a bidding war with developers, said L. Michelle, district director of communications. Weaver did say that a spot somewhere between Issaquah and Skyline high schools would be ideal for the new high school.

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