By Susan Wilkins
In 1997, the Lake Washington School District created a modernization plan to keep its schools updated. Schools were divided into 4 phases based on their age, and every 8 years a quarter of the schools were to be updated or remodeled. In 1998 voters approved the Phase I Bond measure for $160,000,000 to modernize the first 11 schools on its list.
The word "modernization" means to update, and the first two schools on the Phase I modernization list, Audubon Elementary and Lakeview Elementary, were updated for about $5 million each. After these two schools were updated, the district adopted a plan where they tore down old schools and replaced them with new schools by using a new-in-lieu calculation that showed that the cost to rebuild was about 80% of the cost to remodel. The district added complex requirements to the school remodels that were difficult if not impossible to incorporate into the old schools at a reasonable price. The cost of remodeling old schools soared and thus the district was able to justify tearing down and rebuilding schools rather than updating them. The district started using the term "modernization" to mean tear-down/rebuild. They also began building schools that were shockingly expensive with amenities and special features that were unnecessarily extravagant. Read More >>
A Comparison of Old vs. New:
Horace Mann Elementary (rebuilt in 2003)
Cost to rebuild: $10,000,000
Old: 18 classrooms, 7 portables, 35,000 sq.ft.
New: 18 classrooms, no portables, 51,000 sq.ft.
Frost Elementary (rebuilt in 2009)
Cost to rebuild: $25,600,000
Old: 20 classrooms, 4 portables, 40,000 sq.ft.
New: 20 classrooms, no portables, 59,260 sq.ft.
Most people assumed that the new school buildings being built would have more classrooms than the old school that were being torn down. I even inquired why the new Horace Mann would have only 18 classrooms and was told that there was no money for expanding the school.
This is the root of our current overcrowding crisis: The district used a truly bizarre definition of "modernization" to mean that they could only build as many classrooms as they tore down. Although the new schools were 50% larger than the schools that were torn down, they still had the same number of classrooms!
The Phase I Modernization Bond in 1998 was for $160,000,000. It funded the remodeling of 2 schools and the replacement of 9 additional schools. For each regular classroom that was demolished, a new regular classroom was built.
Total # of regular classrooms added for Phase I: 0
The Phase II Modernization Bond passed in 2006 was for $436,000,000. It funded the construction of the new Carson Elementary and the replacement of 11 schools. For each regular classroom that was demolished, a new regular classroom was built.
Total # of regular classrooms added for Phase II: 24
In 2006, Rosa Parks Elementary was built as part of the Redmond Ridge Urban Planned Development on Union Hill.
Total # of regular classrooms added: 24
Phase I & II of the school district's modernization plan has spent nearly $600 Million and has added only 48 regular classrooms - enough classroom space for only 1200 students. The school's unrestrained construction binge has left us deeply in debt, and worse, has created an acute overcrowding problem. While they were building spectacular, architecturally award-winning palaces, the school district was not building enough new space for the current students or future growth.
The district passed a $65.4 million levy in 2011 for new construction that built additions at RHS and EHS and also built the new STEM school in rural King County. (Inexplicably, the district didn't bother to ask for money to build the N. Redmond or Redmond Ridge elementary schools.)
Currently, the district depends on 91 portables at elementary schools, 45 portables at middle schools and 15 portables at high schools to house over 3000 students. The proposed bond would build enough classroom space for only 3150 students - just barely enough to get the students who are in portables back into regular classrooms. It will not add enough space for future students.
The district wants $33,000,000 to build each of the 3 new elementary schools ($100 million total). They want $135,000,000 to tear down and rebuild Juanita High School. They want us to approve $80,000,000 for a new middle school but after a year of planning, they still won't tell us where it will be. (I am concerned that it will be like the STEM school location - far from the students who will be attending it.)
We gave the school district $600,000,000 for Phase I and Phase II modernization and they squandered it on extravagant designs and needless tear-down/rebuilds even while students spent years in portables. Before we approve any bond measure, we should have an in-depth analysis of the planned construction to make sure that they are using our money wisely to build adequate space where it's needed.
The district has spent 15 years creating the current overcrowding crisis. Yes, I agree it is quite real and immediate - but we should not feel compelled to approve this bond measure out of desperation. It is not be what we need and will not properly address our overcrowding and future growth issues.
One in 6 kids at LWSD already spends the day in a portable. We need to pass a bond measure that will get them out of portables in the long-term and won't create new problems by spending money foolishly or on the wrong project. I will vote for a sensible bond measure, but not for the one that's currently proposed.