Sunday, March 16, 2014

LETTER: History of LWSD Construction & Modernization: 1998-present

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.


News Editor said...

I have only lived in the area for around 12 years. I don't know what voters approved before 2003, but I can say this: Currently, every single corner of what this letter calls "extravagant construction, with no added classroom space" at Horace Mann and other schools, is being used for some or another worthy educational purpose. Education nowadays is not confined only to the classroom. We do want our children to enjoy multiuse school space to continue having sports, a playground, a musical education, reading and math enrichment, teamwork project space, a school library and, in the specific case of Mann, an Art room. Never heard of any Mann parent grumbling about that extravagant Art room. Mann has a more than reasonable size at 18 classrooms. Who on Earth wants their kid to go to a 600+ elementary? Or, just ask Rockwell parents if they want their old school remodeled or rebuilt. I also want my home's value to go up when people buy into LWSD's pretty schools and the award winning education that takes place in them.
What I see in this letter is a perception that rebuilding is a wasteful course of action compared to remodeling, and that the district had very strict building requirements. What is the writer suggesting, that the district should save by flaunting current building codes and making substandard remodeling rather than safer, more energy-efficient new buildings?
On each and every bond and levy in the past ten years, the district has delivered exactly what the voters approved, within the budget approved and on schedule. The 2011 bond would have dealt with most of the current overcrowding problem, but that bond failed, and that's the real origin of our present overcrowding. The April 22 bond will create permanent capacity for 3,900 students, not 3150, and it is all about NEW schools. The one proposed rebuild is Juanita HS, and the proposed new JHS will have space for all four grades, thus taking care of the portables.
The letter end saying "we need to pass a bond measure that will get students out of portables". Well, the April 22 Bond IS that measure. It is also our LAST CHANCE this year to act on ending overcrowding.
Let's say, just for the sake of argument, that the district is underestimating growth for the next 8 years. Wouldn't this be the MORE reason to vote Yes on April 22?

Paige Norman said...

The point of this excellent piece is that the district has constantly built new buildings without growth in mind. To build an elementary school with the SAME number of classrooms but 50% more space?

To build a High School and then add a 14-classroom addition and four portables in 3 years?

And the excuse that the district didn't plan for the 3 to 4 year high school change just highlights the ineptitude of the district's planning processes.

Sure, we need more classrooms and more money, but spending more money on portables instead of actual classrooms isn't the issue.

And, the schools that will be built with these bond funds will be overcrowded before they're finished based on the city's desire to put 20,000 new residents into our city.

Anonymous said...

My children go to a newer elementary built with 5 pods and several small space learning areas (set up for small group learning of 5 or less students). I volunteer in the school several times a week. RARELY do I see these spaces used! The "art room" is the only shared space I ever see used.
I know that LWSD claims that instruction is delivered in such a way that these spaces are needed and are lobbying the state to finance an increase in sq.ft./student the state will pay. But real life shows that these spaces go empty most of the day. I certainly hope LWSD reviews pod usage and realizes the new schools should be built with 2 or 3 pods for every 22 classrooms. This will make the school more cost effective.
Is the school board listening so the next bond which will "modernize" schools passes or will they submit to voters yet another oversize tax increase for creme de la creme schools which will fail ?

Susan Wilkins said...

I need to make a correction - the proposed bond measure would add seats for 3650 students, not 3150 as I had stated. I forgot to add in the 500 students at the LWHS addition.

This brings up another issue: traffic. When the district added the 9th graders to Redmond High School and built the 2011 addition, the student population increased from ~1500 to ~1900. The morning traffic is now a nightmare with mile-long backups onto Avondale and 166th Ave NE. The afternoon traffic is near gridlock. Just wait till LWHS adds 500 more students and JHS adds 600 students. Their traffic will become horrible, too.

And has anyone noticed the "Proposed Land Use Action" signs that just went up in front of Horace Mann? The district will be adding 4 portables at the back for another 100 students so Mann is on its way to becoming a 600+ elementary school. Wouldn't it have been nice if the district had instead remodeled inside the school building by tearing out internal walls and repartitioning to use the existing space more efficiently? Mann currently has 4 pods - each with 4 classrooms surrounding a large common learning area. Each pod also has several small storage/meeting rooms. If each pod were reconfigured to have five classrooms instead of four, then the four pods would have 20 classrooms instead of 16. There would be room for the additional students inside the school without having to add portables. (Over the years, I never saw the shared learning and small meeting rooms in the pods used to even a fraction of their full potential.)

It's too bad that the only solution this district can come up with is to add portables when they need additional classroom space.

Anonymous said...

Bronx High School of Science was built in 1959.
Brooklyn Technical High School was built in 1933.
Stuyvesant High School was housed in the same building for 90 years!

These are ALL TOP rated New York City high schools with 2,000-3,000+ students.

It is obvious that LWSD does not know how to modernize existing buildings at a lower cost than building new. I invite Dr. Pierce to contact Carmen FariƱa who is the NYCPS Chancellor to find out how NYC cares for these ancient buildings and successfully educates so many before she asks voters (again) to pay for new schools in replacement of Kamiakin & Evergreen Middle, Kirk, Mead, & Rockwell

Anonymous said...

Susan, I really don't understand what you want. The original bond measure, which included funds to refurbish/replace existing schools failed- so be it. You have a fair point to question the district about the past success of their planning and the relative economics of build vs. renovate.

However, the new bond measure is to build _new_ additional schools and to _add_ capacity to existing schools. I think that's exactly what you asked for, but for some reason you're still unhappy.

You said: "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 [sic] what we need and will not properly address our overcrowding and future growth issues."

What bond measure would you feel "compelled" to approve? And while you're at it, please tell us how the overcrowding in grade and middle schools is affecting you personally.

Anonymous said...

About those TOP rated NYC schools. It is difficult to compare how much they have spent on facilities over the years, but it is really easy to see that they spend significantly more per pupil than we do:

Per Pupil Expenditure:
$12,211 Bronx HS of Science
$12,982 Brooklyn Technical HS
$12,930 Stuyvesant HS
$ 8,910 Redmond HS

It is also interesting to me that even though they are public schools, they have multi-million dollar endowments that they use to fund all sorts of improvements.

Anonymous said...

NYC is choosing to pay their teachers more ($45,530 bachelor’s degree, no prior teaching experience) instead of spending the money for pretty buildings.
LWSD pays $30,951 step 0. )I think LWSD needs revisit it's priorities list!

Even though salary and construction money come from two different pools of property tax, taxpayer wallets are finite. LWSD taxpayers have said no (twice) to the the extra large buildings Dr. Pierce thinks are imperative to a student's success.

NYC Selective Schools do not use their "endowment" for building maintenance. But, if you need, here's an example of a "normal" and old NYCPS:
NYC PS 125 was built in 1920 ans is still standing.

Dave Griffin said...

Good discussion,

Unitah Elementary School, in Salt Lake City, is serving and has served my family since the 1930’s. Yes this school has had an addition, but the basic structure is still in use today. That’s the model I’d like to see used in LWSD.

I’m very concerned with the new Prop 1 Construction Bond measure, because it does not consider adequate student learning spaces. This new bond measure eliminates upgrades planned for Kamiakin Middle School (2017-2018), a school currently with 7 portables, but continues to fund the Juanita Field House.

LWSD was strongly urged, by both pro and con citizens, in it’s March 3rd public hearing to take a deep breath and carefully present to voters a new well documented proposal that serve the needs of students. Unfortunately all the board choose to do was ‘slim’ down from 750 Million to just over 400 Million.

We can’t afford to do this incorrectly. I hope people vote to REJECT Prop 1 Construction Bond, so LWSD can go back to the drawing board and get construction done right for Parents, Taxpayers, and Students.

Anonymous said...

Dave Griffin - I'm interested in learning what you think the bond should include.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen much discussion on the school impact fees, but they are inadequate.

LWSD's 6 year capital facilities plan assumes that it would cost 22 million to build an elementary school and 44 million to build a middle school in 2015. The school impact fees are based on this assumption. Yet the final numbers for construction cost per the bond proposal are about 50% higher.

The impact fees should then be at least 50% higher, if not more to account for inflation in the construction standards.