Looking beyond the bond

When Mount Si High School’s buzzers ring at the end of a period, its hallways turn into floodways full of students making their way to their next class. The school is over its optimal capacity, and feels the crunch in its crowded hallways.

When Mount Si High School’s buzzers ring at the end of a period, its hallways turn into floodways full of students making their way to their next class. The school is over its optimal capacity, and feels the crunch in its crowded hallways.

Just getting to class can become a full contact sport.

“There’s one area where all the hallways meet and a lot of people get knocked over there,” said Lindsey Bertram, a senior.

“One person wants to go left, another wants to go right, and they run into each other,” she said, smashing her hands together.

Rather than fight through the jostling pack, Bertram takes longer, less crowded ways to class when she can.

“Kids get frustrated in the hallways because they can’t comfortably get from class to class,” said Randy Taylor, Mount Si High School’s principal.

The cramped corridors and gridlock have an effect on students analogous to ‘road rage,’ and they arrive at class “physically and emotionally distracted,” he said.

Being pushed in the hallway puts Bertram in a bad mood.

But when it happens, “it’s just a normal day at school,” she said.

Mount Si’s overcrowding has not hurt its academics overall, but with enrollment expected to rise in coming years, school officials want to alleviate the crowding before academics are hurt.

The school bond, Resolution 727, on the March 10 ballot includes items for adding six double-modular units on campus. Taylor has proposed dedicating the modulars for the 9th grade, which would reduce the number of students in the halls.

The bond would raise $27.5 million in total. Of that, $5.4 million would be for purchasing and siting the modular units, which would add 12 classrooms. The modulars would be placed on the school’s existing tennis courts, so $1.2 million would pay for new courts.

Because Bertram is graduating this year, her mother was ambivalent about voting for the current school bond, she said.

“I told my mom to vote for the bond because I don’t want other kids to go through what I had to,” she said.

Mount Si’s facilities are having difficulty keeping up with the Valley’s growing population. The auditorium, gym and lunch area are all near or past maximum capacity.

Bertram has not eaten lunch in the dining area since her freshman year, because it is too difficult to find space, she said.

During lunch, clusters of students clutter the hallways.

If the current bond passes, it will give the school board a few years to address the growing number of students, Taylor said.

The school district is focused on passing the current bond, but the school board has tasked a committee, of which Taylor is a member, with developing recommendations for long term plans for the Valley’s school facilities.

The long term planning committee’s work is independent of the current bond. But the outcome of the March 10 vote could affect its findings.

A previous planning process three years ago led to the past three school bonds which failed by slim margins. Those bond proposals included a second high school to accommodate the Valley’s booming population.

However, the economic recession has drastically changed the Valley’s projected growth, dropping it from six or seven percent a year down to around two percent. Snoqualmie was hit the hardest.

“Enrollment projects are problematic; it’s not a perfect science. Many people thought the six or seven percent increase we saw three years ago was a permanent trend,” said Don McConkey, the district’s assistant superintendent and head of the long term planning committee.

The committee should have its final recommendations for the board by late spring or early summer.

The committee is considering a wide range of possible recommendations, which include ‘brick and mortar’ solutions, such as building new facilities or expanding existing ones, and more conceptual solutions, such as making Mount Si only for grades 10 to 12 and the middle schools grades 7 to 9, McConkey said.

“It’s very complex because there are lot of tentacles that play off each other. It’s just not clean and crisp,” he said.

Many of the variables which go into enrollment projections have changed in the past three years. The most notable changes are the recession and weak real estate market, but there are some positive changes, too, such as the expected end of North Bend’s development moratorium, which was not considered in the last enrollment projections.

To help with projections, the committee will gather input from several sources, including planners from King County, North Bend, Snoqualmie and Fall City.

Furthermore, the committee must make budget projections, as well. If the committee recommends building a new facility, it must consider whether the district will be able to pay annual operating costs after it is constructed.

The committee has to ask “‘what’s really do-able?’ It might be good to say, ‘well, we need a new school.’” But the district has to be able to operate it, McConkey said.

The district spends $2.5 to $3 million operating Mount Si every year.

“The cost of operating a new school is a big hit on our general fund,” he said.

The committee could recommend an alternative such as adding on to the existing high school.

“If the committee wants to put the money into expanding Mount Si, we can do that,” said Taylor. “And we do that by going up, rather than expanding out.”

Using the committee’s recommendations, the board will adopt a formal plan for the district facilities.

“Once that plan’s in place we’re going to keep a close eye on those enrollment projections,” so the board can amend the plan if there are any significant changes, McConkey said.