The Issaquah School District’s search for property on which to build new schools may have just gotten a little easier.
At the June 14 Issaquah School Board meeting, the board heard a proposal by the district to demolish the current Central Administration building so that one of the district’s new, badly-needed schools could be put in its place.
The funds from the 2016 bond that were allocated toward buying property for that school would instead fund the acquisition of a new Central Administration building — which, according to district Finance Manager Jake Kuper, would cost far less than the property for a new school.
“We would raze this building and build a school where we are currently standing,” Kuper said at the board meeting.
Kuper told the Reporter that the new school would “likely be a sixth middle school for the district.”
The $535.5 million school bond passed in April 2016 was originally intended to fund the property acquisition for and construction of four new schools — two new elementary schools, a sixth middle school and a fourth high school — for the rapidly-growing district.
However, Kuper said that the district has been having an incredibly difficult time finding suitable property on which to build new schools.
“We’ve undertaken an exhaustive property search … Redevelopment of this site is one of the best ways [to build a school] in a timely fashion,” Kuper told the board. He said that the property search has been going on the entire 13 years he has worked at the district.
There are several factors making it difficult to find schools.
For one, the Growth Management Act forbids new schools to be built outside of the Urban Growth Boundary, which runs just outside of Issaquah. This shrinks the area that is available for schools, pushing schools into an area already densely populated.
Additionally, the geography of Issaquah and Sammamish means that large, flat spaces big enough for a school and ball fields are few and far between.
With so many people moving to the area for jobs in international companies, there is a very high level of competition for the little land available.
“The real estate market is extraordinarily hot,” Kuper said. “We are in competition with some of the biggest land developers in the world.”
Even when the district has set its sights on specific properties, attaining them and building on them has not been easy. The Winterbrook Farm property on May Valley Road, which the district sold earlier this year, was not able to be used for a school due to a reinterpretation of the Growth Management Act.
And the Providence Heights campus, which the board last year voted to move forward in condemning, is currently in the midst of a legal battle, as hundreds of local historic preservationists wish to see it saved.
In contrast to finding land big enough for a school campus, Kuper said that it is far easier — and less expensive — to find office space.
When School Board Director Anne Moore asked Kuper how long it would take to acquire a new property for an administration building, Kuper responded that there is already a freestanding office space over which the district is considering exercising eminent domain.
In a public notice published on June 16 and June 23, the address of the property proposed to be condemned was listed as 5150 220th Ave. SE, Issaquah.
School Board President Lisa Callan pointed out that the Central Administration Building room in which the board was currently sitting is often used for community meetings, and asked if the new administration facility would cause “any change in access by the community?”
Thiele said that, with how much the district has grown, the current Central Administration Building very much needs to be enlarged, and that the new building would provide even more opportunities for members of the public to gather.
“It would greatly increase the availability to make open to the public a large open space,” Thiele said. He pointed out that the new Central Administration Building would have “three times the parking” and “numerous rooms” as big as the room in which the School Board currently meets.
“I think there are real advantages,” Thiele said.
The board will deliberate whether or not to go forward with the demolition of the current administration facility at the June 28 board meeting. The board is also expected to take action on whether to condemn the potential new administration building.
Members of the public are welcome to give comment during public comment at the start of the meeting.