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Campaign begins for Mount Si High remodel, expansion bond | Some constituents still want answers

Whether or not the Snoqualmie Valley School District is officially done vetting a $216 million bond option, one phase in its bond campaign is about to begin.

Assistant Superintendent Don McConkey, in describing a series of public meetings on the bond proposal, told the board at its Nov. 7 meeting, “This is the beginning of the campaign.” Only two board members, Scott Hodgins and Carolyn Simpson, attended this part of the meeting, and neither argued with McConkey’s statement, or his follow-up emphasis on the need for a consistent message in this phase of the process.

To several audience members, newly elected District 1 board member Tavish MacLean included, that news was confusing.

“As we talked about these community meetings, Don made the point, ‘Hey, this is the beginning of the campaign.’ So in my mind, that means vetting is over. Now we’re going,” MacLean told the board. “And what I don’t think we’ve done is answer the hard questions.”

The proposed Option A bond, selected in August by the school board after a series of focus group meetings during the summer, would build a sixth elementary school to open in 2015, and complete a phased remodel of Mount Si High School that would add enough capacity to bring the freshmen back onto the main campus and reopen the Freshman Campus building as a middle school by 2018. Following discussions in October, the bond would also include funds for several other facilities projects in the district, at a cost of $2.24 per thousand, for a total school assessment (previous levies and bonds included) of up to $6.60 per thousand.

New board member’s questions

Although the board has been talking about various bond and high-school remodel options for the past year, the district just this year opened its freshman campus, following a $2.5 remodel of the Snoqualmie Middle School building it’s in. Also, enrollment projections presented last month, combined with new state requirements and funding for reduced class sizes, could mean a huge increase in the district’s capacity needs at every grade level.

MacLean said he still had many questions, such as:

• Why not build another middle school and keep the freshman campus?

• Why not build a separate high school?

• How does this plan compare to the other (district)s in terms of cost?

• What is the state providing?

• How do we know this is all we’ll need?

• How are we gauging the likelihood of the passage?

“These are all the questions that need to be addressed,” he said, and although he was confident they would be in the public meetings, tentatively scheduled to start the week of Nov. 20, he said, “I don’t have the sense right now that we’ve come up with those answers and have truly vetted this option.”

Kim Hagen, also at the meeting, had still more questions, and a caution for the board. “I just want to make sure that the board is transparent with everything that you’re doing, because I do think that we have revisited several issues from the past. If you’re asking a $216 million question…. Make sure that you’re in tune with the Valley voters. I’m not sure that you are.

“What I see from those (enrollment projection) numbers is we need an elementary school first, and then we can look at the high school situation,” she added.

“The questions that need to be answered are: Is this an eight-year remodel, that needs to happen now? Is our principal, who we love now, on board with this remodel? Will you need to come back to us in the middle of this remodel — if going from 2,100 to 2,400 (students) … and ask me for more money in the middle of that? Will Mount Si be at capacity at 2,100?”

Hodgins told Hagen, “I think Option A will answer all your questions.”

To MacLean, he offered a more detailed explanation. “We may want to set Mount Si aside and not fix it,” he said. “We might want to never do it, but we’re going to have to do it, and right now is the best time to do it. We have a quarter of the population off that campus. Right now is the only time that we’re ever going to do something to that facility, because it’s going to fill up again, or a flood could hit it again. Who knows what’s going to happen to that facility… if we wait eight years to do something to Mount Si, the cost of it will double.”

What’s ahead

According to the district’s timeline for vetting Option A, the board will soon reach a decision point, having to answer the questions they set themselves: Is Option A a viable possibility for voter consideration? and Is the proposed bond the right bond for SVSD?

The Record asked all board members in a Friday e-mail message whether they’ve answered these questions, and if they felt the bond had been fully vetted.

Hodgins’ response emphasized his position that improving the high school now should be the district’s top priority. Regarding the district’s readiness to proceed with a bond, he wrote, “I believe that the district has never spent enough time ‘vetting’ a bond proposal before it’s actually placed on the ballot. This time is no different... I have come to the conclusion that as the president of the school board, I must lead.”

The Snoqualmie Valley School District board meets next at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, at Snoqualmie City Hall.

 

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