Potential $227 million bond issue draws questions from school board

September 6, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Equity and getting the best construction return for the district’s dollars seemed to be the underlying issues as the Issaquah School Board continued to debate a potential $227 million capital improvement bond issue voters might decide in February.

The board has a little less than a month to decide on the bond question prior to a Sept. 28 deadline. Toward the end of the discussion at the board’s Aug. 31 meeting, board President Jan Woldseth Colbrese said officials may schedule some extra talks in addition to those planned for the regularly scheduled September board sessions. One topic might be questions about whether officials have set their improvement sights too high.

During the recent discussion, board member Chad Magendanz said he is greatly impressed by the new performing arts center at Issaquah High School.

“I worry that it’s too beautiful,” he said, the clear implication being voters might think the district is going overboard in its plans.

But Woldseth Colbrese said those looking at the issue must consider what use students can make of new or improved facilities. Observers might argue that permanent portable classrooms at district facilities are OK, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily desirable, she added.

Much of the recent discussion revolved around proposed improvements to athletic fields in the district. Among other measures, current plans call for the placement of artificial turf at five schools at a cost of about $1.3 million per school. There are also some major improvements planned for the stadiums at Liberty and Skyline high schools.

“We’re not doing anything outlandish,” insisted Steve Crawford, district director of capital improvements.

“There’s always a way to do something cheaper,” said Jake Kuper, the district’s chief financial officer. “Is it going to last? That’s another question.”

In answering the board members’ questions, Kuper said district officials would collect increased fees from community groups who would be able to make greatly increased use of stadiums and fields outfitted with artificial turf. At the same time, the district would spend far less on maintenance costs at the fields, Kuper added.

In terms of equity, Magendanz said the board could not appear to be playing favorites among district schools if they expect a bond issue to pass. The chief example noted was the planned improvements to the stadium at Skyline. Several officials indicated those improvements would put the Spartans on equal footing with other district high schools.

Under the bond proposal approved by Superintendent Steve Rasmussen, the largest projects under consideration are rebuilding or replacing what the administration feels are aging facilities, namely Issaquah Middle School and Sunny Hills and Clark elementary schools. Those three projects make up $109 million, or 47.9 percent, of the total capital improvement plan. The other single largest component is renovation of Liberty, priced at $39.7 million not including $4.8 million for stadium renovations.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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