A year ago, in this column, I called for an answer to some basic questions on the latest school bond plans. Among them: Why not build a separate high school? Why not build another middle school and keep the freshman campus? How do we know this is all we’ll need?
In this, my last editorial column, I’d like to share some of the answers I have learned, as they relate to the proposal that is now before voters, coming to you in ballot form in a matter of weeks.
It’s true that I am a short-timer, and by election day, will no longer pay any taxes in this district. But I have to ask: How long can the Valley continue to kick the can down the road when it comes to Mount Si High School? Yes, this is a big bond, $246 million total, $188 million for the high school, certainly nothing to sneeze at. Rebuilding Mount Si where Mount Si is today comes with significant costs, and the design process still needs to happen. But the votes we’ve seen over the past eight years tell me that Valley residents do want a single high school: They want to keep Mount Si as the magnet school, the keystone, if you will, of our entire Upper Valley.
In 2007, and again in 2008, Valley voters rejected the second-high-school premise. In 2011, voters twice rejected the replacement middle school plan that would have made a ninth grade campus a permanent thing. While cost always is a factor, I believe that the wish to keep a single Mount Si campus was also a big part of those defeats.
Today’s bond plan finds a compromise on the freshman campus. Under the plan, freshmen get their own building, where they get kind of attention that sets them up for success, while staying part of the overall Mount Si campus. It’s an elegant solution.
The bond provides capacity for more than a decade, perhaps 20 years. That’s a far cry from earlier proposals that would have been full by completion, a total non-starter. Importantly, we don’t need to build another middle school if we do this, because it gives us the former Snoqualmie Middle School back. We basically get a middle school for free.
I have always stressed community input in the bond process. We’ve had more than a year of discussion, including community forums, before we got here. More is needed, and more will happen. Two community tours of the existing high school are planned in January, and for residents, this is your best way to get up to speed and ask questions about Mount Si’s infrastructure and crowding issues.
It’s been hard in the Valley to pass high school bonds. One might argue that it’d be easier to do this in pieces: One part of the campus one year, another the next, and so on. But there’s a price for that. The chaos of construction lasts for more years. Costs rise. One wonders how coherent a piecemeal high school would be in terms of design, usability, appearance.
As for that second high school, I don’t think the Valley is ready for it. And, aside from the costs of construction, you have all the additional staffing and maintenance and transportation costs, the duplication: doubled programs, admin, teams and coaches and fields, buses, you name it—millions of dollars in redundancy. It would split the community. Mount Si is our center and needs to stay that way. We’re already big, already 4A, and we’re handling it, but like a crab outgrowing its shell, we need some space.
As a whole, this bond is a chance to add needed capacity at elementary, middle and high school levels that we needed. It’s taken years to get here. Years of discussion. Years of near misses at the polls. It’s time. Vote yes. Build the schools that the Valley deserves.