Covington hopes to have first chance at elementary school site

In 20 years the site of Covington Elementary School could be home of a park, a public plaza and the city’s Town Center.

First, though, the Kent School District needs to find a buyer for the property, build a new Covington Elementary on a site in the northwest corner of the city and open the school’s doors.

During the past nine months the city and the district have been working toward an agreement that could give Covington the first chance to buy the property or match another party’s offer.

That school district site, explained Covington City Manager Derek Matheson, is a key piece of the city’s vision for its Town Center.

“That’s the potential location for a future public park or plaza and perhaps future public buildings,” Matheson said. “When I first got here five years ago, the district was actively pursuing a new Covington Elementary … closer to the students it serves. They were actually in the design phase when the economy collapsed.”

So, a new school to replace an aging building that is approaching its 50th birthday, was put on the back burner by the district.

“The district continues to want to build a new school,” Matheson said. “Because this property is so important to our Town Center vision we don’t want it to be sold to a developer without our knowledge or involvement.”

A year or two ago the city approached the district about the possibility of negotiating an agreement that would allow Covington what’s known as the right of first refusal. The Kent School Board and the Covington City Council had a joint meeting in January when the idea was brought up and the parties were agreeable to investing the concept.

Covington’s city attorney Sarah Springer is working with the district’s legal counsel to hammer out an agreement which would then need to be approved by KSD’s chief business officer and Matheson before going to the School Board and City Council for approval.

Still, that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, just a step in the direction both parties would like to go.

“Even if we negotiate and our governing bodies approve this agreement, the city would still need to come up with the money to buy the property,” Matheson said. “Hopefully the district doesn’t sell the property until the economy is significantly better or the city is able to pay back a loan … or get a grant to buy the property.”

Covington’s downtown plan in its current incarnation was adopted by the City Council in December 2009 and the development regulations for the area were updated in 2010, Matheson said, in order to match that vision.

Town Center will likely evolve over a long period of time, as much as 20 years, Matheson said, and it will require a mix of public and private investment. The idea is for a park, a plaza and a pedestrian-oriented street grid so it has a more of a small-town, main street kind of feel with buildings close to the street that have retail and office on the bottom floor with homes above.

Matheson said he expects the agreement could be completed and approved by the end of the year. The Kent School Board of Directors approved moving forward with the concept at its Aug. 22 meeting.

It’s one step in a long term process that could help the district but also the city see its vision become reality.

“I give credit to the City Councils over the past 15 years who said, ‘We’re not just going to grow, we’re going to grow the right way,’” Matheson said.


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