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One step closer to Tahoma construction bond
With the decision to include Lake Wilderness Elementary in a proposed construction bond measure at its June 25 meeting the Tahoma School Board moved one step closer to putting the issue to voters.
Asking for community support of the construction bond measure — the amount has not yet been determined — is critical said Tim Adam, president of the school board.
“The schools are overcrowded,” Adam said. “Class size is getting to the point where we don’t want it to effect the quality of the education. We’ve found ways to make do over the years because we have to.”
It’s time, though, Adam said, for Tahoma to stop making do with what they have and support students as well as teachers with school buildings which support all the good things happening in the district.
“We can do better than this,” Adam said. “We have to do better than this and it’s for the kids. That’s what it’s all about, and for our collective future in the community.”
In order to make an Aug. 6 King County Elections deadline for filing the construction bond measure for the November ballot, the board would most likely vote to put a bond measure to voters at its July 23 meeting, explained district spokesman Kevin Patterson in an email interview. If not, a special meeting would need to happen prior to the county elections deadline.
A final decision on the amount of the bond has not been made, Patterson noted, though the board did decide to go with the option that would keep Lake Wilderness Elementary in use. The board was initially presented with six options which were then narrowed down to two. At its June 25 meeting, the board members chose what was known as Option D, which would make Glacier Park, Rock Creek, Shadow Lake and Lake Wilderness elementary schools kindergarten through fifth grade schools along with Cedar River and Tahoma middle schools. Students at the middle school level would be sixth, seventh and eighth — currently the two district middle schools serve sixth and seventh graders while eighth and ninth graders go to Tahoma Junior High — while a new Tahoma High would be home to ninth through 12th grade students.
Adam said it was obvious after a joint meeting with the Maple Valley City Council and Maple Valley Fire Department in May that the community wanted to keep Lake Wilderness Elementary an active school. Adam said during the meeting the board wanted to get input from the community and was flooded with emails shortly thereafter.
“To keep Lake Wilderness, we heard loud and clear,” Adam said. “So we made the decision at the last meeting to include Lake Wilderness in the bond measure.”
By the time the July 23 board meeting comes along, Patterson wrote, district staff could have more information about what the various elements of the proposed construction bond measure would cost.
“The board is still awaiting information from our architects on the estimated cost, so that we can set a bond amount,” Patterson wrote. “By including Lake Wilderness Elementary as part of the project, the cost will be increased by about $15 million to pay for improvements to the 1986 portion of the school — including a new heating and ventilating system — and to add six classrooms. We would demolish the 1959 portion of the school — and remove portables — except for the gymnasium. The school would have a capacity of 550, compared to the 1,100 currently at (Lake Wilderness).”
As of June 27, Patterson wrote, the bond amount could range between $125 million and $150 million. The cost would depend on the level of matching funds the district would be eligible to receive from the state.
A significant chunk of that cost would be for the construction of a brand new Tahoma High School. District officials are hopeful resumed talks with King County to purchase about 35 acres in the property known as the Donut Hole will solve the issue of where to build it. Rough estimates on the cost of constructing a new high school are in the $90 to $110 million range.
Tahoma last passed a construction bond in 1997, which generated about $45.5 million in revenue plus an addition $30 million in state matching grants, and was spent over the course of eight years with the money used to remodel Tahoma High and build Tahoma Junior High, among other projects.
The school board put a $125 million bond measure to residents who live within the district boundaries in April 2011 but it failed to garner the 60 percent supermajority approval required. Instead, about 52 percent of voters ticked the yes box on the ballot. That was a tough year for such measures across the state. A dozen similar measures, including Tahoma’s, failed across Washington state. In the meantime, Patterson wrote, the board will review what it will do if the proposed construction bond fails.
Tahoma Junior High Principal Rob Morrow described to the board June 25 the two scheduling options the district will have if voters do not approve the bond measure.
“These are the same choices that were reviewed two years ago: double-shifting and year-round multi-track,” Patterson wrote. “Scheduling is critical because we would need to notify parents, students and staff a year in advance so they could begin planning for it. We would also have to discuss and negotiate the schedule changes with our labor organizations. Budgets would have to be adjusted to reflect increased operating costs that would occur, especially on a year-round schedule.”
These alternatives may be considered scare tactics by some residents of the district based on the Tahoma’s history after such measures failed.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to what happens if it doesn’t pass,” Adam said. “We’ve started looking at a track system. We don’t want to go that direction but we can’t ignore that we just can’t squeeze more of these kids into some of these classrooms. We want to at least have a backup plan if the bond measure fails.”
All this discussion went on while the state Legislature was in its second special session to hammer out a budget before the fiscal year ended. Part of the capital budget included $4 million for Tahoma which would be used to put toward the purchase of property in the Donut Hole. Having a site selected, particularly one that is highly desirable for the district, could help those who campaign on the district’s behalf. Tahoma is not allowed to use district resources to encourage voters to approve the bond measure, instead it can only provide information on what it would do with the money raised.
Adam said the bond measure can pass if those who campaign for it appeal to those who aren’t registered to vote to get them signed up to cast a ballot, to make their voice heard, as well as provide information to those residents.
“That’s where we really need to concentrate our efforts, younger voters and new people moving into the community,” Adam said. “We have world class teachers here, we have a world class curriculum so I think we need world class facilities to support that.”