Moving target: Citizens help with the big questions around Valley's next school

Board director Geoff Doy of North Bend explains an option for Valley school construction at a Tuesday, May 28, focus group at Mount Si High School. - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
Board director Geoff Doy of North Bend explains an option for Valley school construction at a Tuesday, May 28, focus group at Mount Si High School.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

A new elementary school in the next two years is at the top of the Snoqualmie Valley School Board's wish list. A new middle school and a new, or like-new high school are on the list, too, but those buildings are moving targets.

Deciding if and when to build them is the task of the school board, which is asking for help from more than 200 citizens in a series of focus group meetings. Four meetings have occurred, and one more is planned, at 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. Monday, June 10, as an online presentation with opportunities for comment.

About 35 community members took part in the latest focus group, May 28, to review three of the most likely options for both running bonds and building facilities. These include:

• Senario A, building a $30 million elementary school and starting a seven-year, $160 million reconstruction/remodel of the high school in the next school year, with a middle school decision -- either a new one or SMS returning to use as a middle school -- around 2018;

• B, building a $30 million elementary school, and starting the $70 million phase 1 of a three-stage high school reconstruction/remodel project, with decisions on the middle school and (if student population exceeds 2,100) a second high school, around 2018; and

• C, building a $30 million elementary school, a new $50 million middle school and making up to $30 million in renovations to Mount Si High School, with a decision based on high school and middle school populations in 2018.

All of these options are being considered through the filter of the school board's guiding principles, said School Board President Scott Hodgins, at the start of the meeting. These included the need to equip teachers "to deliver a quality 21st-century education program," the need to address capacity problems, especially at the high school, and the recognition that Snoqualmie Valley is a one-high-school, three-middle-school district.

"We know we need that middle school back," Hodgins said, of the board's decision to annex Snoqualmie Middle School into the high school campus next fall, as a freshmen-only campus (See sidebar on the board's complex decision process). Yet, "We know the rubber hits the road in nine through 12, so it's important for us to focus on that comprehensive educational program."

With a projected 2020 enrollment of 2,100 to 2,800 students, the crowding at Mount Si, permanent capacity 1,200, would dramatically outweigh the three middle schools' which combined, have a capacity of almost 1,700, for a projected 2020 enrollment of 1,650 to 2,100 students. Annexing SMS, with a capacity of 470, would partially address the high school's lack of capacity, and create some crowding at the middle schools. Portable classrooms would be used at each school to house students in excess of the permanent capacity.

Ed Kelly suggested that the district answer, the question of which option created the most crowding, and where, when they began their public information campaign regarding the next capital facilities bond.

"In the first three or four years, are we continuing overcrowding at the middle school with any of these options?" he asked. To the answer of yes, A and B do, he said, "And which options continue overcrowding at the high school?"

Paul Sprouse, also in Kelly's group, said "Option C does the least to address the high school," but school board member Carolyn Simpson, who was facilitating the discussion in this group, disagreed, saying,"They all address the middle schools and high school. The difference is in the timelines."

For a man in board member Marci Busby's group, crowding was not the issue at all, but results were. "I like having a checkpoint early on the freshman campus for effectiveness… let's not talk about capacity, let's talk about effectiveness."

Effectiveness was also under debate in another small group, where Steven Silverman asked for metrics, or some other illustration of what the board would consider a successful outcome in choosing one of the options.

"How am I supposed to judge 'goodness' in this?" he asked. "How can we plan for an outcome when we don't know how we're going to measure how we've done against it?"

Success, in this case, will be defined by the participants, explained Matt Rumbaugh, representing the architectural firm NAC that has been developing proposals for a large-scale high school remodel since last fall.

"We want to learn what some of the priorities are from your perspective," he told the audience.

Board member Geoff Doy offered an example of the district's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative, which is limited at the high school by the lack of flexibility in many of its classrooms. However, since the building is in a floodplain, the district is limited to a remodel of less than half the value of the building. Anything more significant would obligate the district, under federal law, to upgrade and flood-proof the entire facility, at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

"You can't flood-proof this building without tearing it down," he said.

One of Doy's major goals with the focus groups was to create an informed corps of voters, who could help the district educate other voters on the issue when a bond comes before them in the future.

For more information about the focus groups, visit the district website,

Joel Aune, superintendent of Snoqualmie Valley Schools, led a small group discussion of various bond options the district is considering. As the facilitator, Aune and other board members took notes on the participants' discussion of the pros and cons for each of three bond scenarios.

An animated Scott Hodgins, current president of the Snoqualmie Valley School board, answered questions and contributed to a focus group discussion on three possible bond options for new school buildings.


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