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City will have first chance at school site

Someday there will be a brand new Covington Elementary School.

With final approval  of the right of first offer agreement coming from the Kent School Board of Directors and the Covington City Council the groundwork has been laid for the next phase of the city’s downtown plan.

The City Council approved its end of an agreement Dec. 11, while the school board gave it the green light at its Jan. 9 meeting, which would allow district officials to go to Covington to give the city the right of first offer on the property where Covington Elementary currently sits — a chunk of land which city officials consider a critical piece of its long term downtown vision.

Covington City Manager Derek Matheson said the city approached the school district about two years ago to develop an agreement between the two entities.

“The community has wanted a central gathering place almost since incorporation (in 1997),” Matheson said. “We adopted this downtown plan with a town center as its focus a few years ago.”

This town center portion of the plan, Matheson said, includes the southern portion of Southeast 272nd east of 168th Place Southeast and Wax Road.

“We envision that the portion which will develop first is the Covington Elementary site, the Valley Medical Center site and the undeveloped land in between,” Matheson said. “The Covington Elementary site is really important to our vision and knowing that the school district wants to replace that school with a new school closer to the students it serves, we wanted to make sure we were in the loop if, and when, the school district decides to sell the school property.”

It is important to note that this is a foundational step for both the city and the district, that many other pieces would need to fall into place before anything would happen at the site.

The school district would need to generate the funds necessary to build the new school at its new site, while the city would need to put together a funding package to buy the Covington Elementary property, or, Matheson said, find a private sector partner to do that.

Those are things which still need to be decided.

“The City Council has its annual retreat at the end of the month,” Matheson said. “One of the things that we’ll talk about are the next steps on the town center and whether we want to proactively seek a developer that we can work with to try to get them to purchase property and start doing the work. In reality we’ll probably end up playing a facilitation role, facilitating the private sector’s development of the town center according to the vision set forth in the downtown plan.”

Chris Loftis, spokesman for the Kent School District, wrote in an email interview that in the event the city and the district can’t come to an agreement then the district will be free to sell the property to another interested party.

It is too soon to lay out a timeline for when a new school could be constructed and it depends on several factors.

“The KSD’s time frame to build a new Covington Elementary School is predicated on the district’s passage of a capital bond referendum,” Loftis wrote. “The date for a possible bond referendum has not be determined by the KSD Board of Directors.”

If voters do approve a construction bond measure at some point in the future, Loftis wrote, it would take “12 to 18 months to construct the new school and during the construction of the new school the sale of the school property would take place.”

In the meantime, Matheson said, Covington staff members are working on getting state funding for a study which would evaluate the costs of adding the infrastructure necessary to support development in the town center area of downtown as well as the potential economic impacts.

And that town center, Matheson said, would have at its core a main street with a low speed limit and one street parking along with a public plaza which could be the venue for local events, cultural celebrations and so on, along with a civic center and private, mixed use multiple story buildings.

“We’re trying to create this for the city and the school district property is a key part of it,” Matheson said.

Reach Assistant Editor Kris Hill at khill@maplevalleyreporter.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5054.

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