Thursday, March 21, 2013

LETTER: The planning steps LWSD needs to consider

Susan Wilkins said...
My suggestion that school construction on the west side of the district should have instead occurred on the east side re-ignited the debate about east versus west in the district. I didn't mean to imply that the east side is more deserving of construction. I believe we should carefully focus our construction money where it's needed most and in proportion to what is actually needed.

What I am dismayed at is that so many schools in the district have been torn down and completely rebuilt - and most of those schools happened to be on the west side of the district and were still in fairly good condition. When we voted we were told that these schools would be "modernized" and I thought that meant updated or remodeled. To me, modernization means replacement of aging plumbing, electrical, lighting, doors, windows, carpeting/flooring, etc. But the school district figured out that they could justify tearing down and replacing the buildings if they added enough new features and space requirements that it would cost as much to remodel as it would to rebuild. What started out as a sensible district-wide remodeling schedule has morphed into a total teardown mentality with plans to replace every school in the district. The school district routinely spends an outrageous $35,000,000 tearing down and rebuilding elementary schools and insists on calling it modernization! Bell, Keller, Juanita and Thoreau Elementaries each have about 300 students and are only partially full. These schools are all brand new and were rebuilt even as schools elsewhere in the district were flooded with students who ended up in villages of portables.

At the same time, it is very clear that Juanita High School has a multitude of maintenance issues that have been neglected for years. Lighting, heating, ventilation and electrical systems are all in need of updating and basic maintenance. Has Juanita High School not had any maintenance because the school district just assumes it will tear the school down? Can Juanita High School be updated without tearing the building down or is it so inherently flawed that it is beyond repair?

Long-term, central planning (or lack of it) seems to be at the root of the school district's problems. The district has built 19 brand new school buildings in the past 15 years, but they have never figured out how to match student populations with space availability. (Should I remind everyone that Wilder was left half empty while Rosa Parks overflowed with students!) Transportation planning and facilities planning are both managed by the same department and bussing is a mess. Short (2-3 mile) bus rides can take 45 minutes and bus stops are often far from students' homes. (Although the district manages to provide a bus that takes students from Redmond Ridge across to ICS in Kirkland in just 25 minutes.) The school district has the names, addresses and grade levels of all the students in the school district and they could use planning software to balance student populations AND to transport students efficiently and quickly to their schools. (The district must coordinate transportation planning and facilities management to make it work.) The school district tells us that moving school boundaries is "tricky". Well, it is tricky, but with computers and well-designed software (try ESRI's ArcGIS series), it is very possible. Big companies like Microsoft have facilities planners to manage their many employees in many buildings. FedEx, UPS and the Post Office have delivery route planners. Maybe LWSD should call up these companies and ask for some planning advice.

By Susan Wilkins, Education Hill, Redmond

1 comment:

Paige Norman said...

I don't "mind" the modernization plans, but it's absolutely irresponsible to build a new school with the same or fewer class rooms as the old school (Horace Mann, for instance). Redmond High School has a NEW addition AND two portables, yet the district now has numbers that they will need more classrooms in the next 10 years.

It would be worthwhile for the schools to plan ahead for the 30-40 years they expect a building to be around; even if they have to have some rooms remain empty for 5 years or so.

And, yes, with all the building going on on the eastside, the constant rezoning of the schools and the fact that almost all schools are closed to "out of zone" students, the district needs to take a much better strategy with regards to being "future ready".