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School Task force shares findings with residents

There's a bit of sticker shock that comes when people see the price tag for the new area high school the Snoqualmie Valley School District's Facilities Task Force wants to build.

More than 60 people showed up each night at two public meetings - one at Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie Sept. 11, and one at Chief Kanim Middle School in Fall City Sept. 12.

The proposal, which calls for immediately building temporary classrooms at the current high school while building a new school at a to-be-determined location, will cost $209.2 million.

That figure includes the $28.5 million cost of buying land, $29.6 million to build a new elementary school, $8.6 million for needed upgrades, $24.1 million to prepare for anticipated cost increases and $109 million to build the new high school.

If the school board adopts the proposal and voters approve a bond to fund it, the tax property owners pay for schools will nearly double. The current school bond rate is $1.58 per $1,000 of assessed value. The new bond would add an estimated $1.36 to $1.52 per $1,000 for a total school tax of $2.94 to $3.10 per $1,000.

None of those present at the public meetings openly questioned the need for a new school. Task force members explained that Mount Si High School is already overcrowded and will only get worse as student populations soar. Middle-school and elementary-school enrollments are also high, but they don't look to be nearly as overcrowded as the high school will become, according to enrollment projections.

"This is not a wish list," said task force member Carolyn Simpson. "The kids are coming and it will be costly."

Task force member Katheryn Lerner said the feedback they received has largely been positive. Of the 82 people who returned surveys, 78 percent said they would support the proposal, 96.3 percent said the meetings met their expectations and 95.1 percent said they felt they had an adequate chance to participate.

Several meeting attendees grilled task force members about why they chose the option to build a new high school rather than reconfigure grade levels or have a separate freshman campus. Task force members said they considered all options but they all had problems. Not only was the new high school less expensive than some of the alternatives, but it didn't create other problems such as overcrowding at the middle-school level.

"We exhausted all other options," Lerner said.

The overcrowding is due largely to population growth on Snoqualmie Ridge, according to task force studies. Snoqualmie now accounts for about 38 percent of the district's total enrollment but by 2020, the city will account for 55 percent. Fall City is expected to fall from 23 percent to 16 percent while the North Bend area is expected to drop from 39 percent to 29 percent.

High-school enrollment is expected to see a similar shift. Snoqualmie is expected to grow from 24 percent to 59 percent of the high-school enrollment in 2020, while Fall City will have just 15 percent growth and North Bend 26 percent in 2020.

"We needed to fix this before the Ridge was built," said one woman who attended the Chief Kanim meeting.

Though property owners are charged a mitigation fee for schools when land is developed, it pays for only a small percentage of the cost associated with growth, said Don McConkey, district assistant superintendent.

Scott Harman, who attended the Sept. 12 meeting, queried McConkey and task force members as to why mitigation fees don't keep up with the costs that come from development.

"It doesn't seem right," Harman said.

Task force member Mark Aberle said it's impossible to cover the full amount of a project as expensive as a new high school with mitigation fees alone.

Much of the money already collected from mitigation fees has had to cover cost increases that exceeded the amount of the current bond collection, McConkey said. That left little to pay for the portables at the high school that are needed immediately to address existing overcrowding, he said.

After making its presentations to the public, the task force presented its recommendation to the school board Sept. 14. The school board will host a public hearing Sept. 28 at its meeting and plans to make a decision Oct. 12.

If the board approves a levy, it would need 60 percent of the vote to pass. There are several other potential tax measures that also could be seeking voter dollars, including a possible Fire District No. 38 levy and several possible pool levies, including one potential levy for a regional pool and one for a Snoqualmie community center that includes a pool.

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