Milestones from the year 2011 reflect changes

December 27, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Renewal defined the year, as the community paused after a population boom and economic bust — and positioned Issaquah for the decades ahead.

Milestones from the last 12 months offer contrasts.

Leaders opened showcases for “green” design and concluded a milestone effort to preserve Tiger Mountain forestland. Tragedy left indelible impressions, too, as a gunman menaced downtown pedestrians on a September morning and turned a school campus into a crime scene.

Guardian One, the King County Sheriff's Office helicopter (above), takes off from the Issaquah Community Center lawn as law enforcement agencies respond to a gunman in downtown Issaquah. By Christina Lords

Gunman dies in police shootout at school

Just before midnight Sept. 15, a man stopped at Issaquah City Hall and asked for assistance from a police officer. The man carried a handgun, and told the responding officer a strange tale about saving the planet.

The incident started a series of strange interactions between Issaquah police and the man, Ronald W. Ficker.

The exchange ended in gunfire Sept. 24, after a rifle-toting Ficker, 51, led officers on a circuitous chase through downtown Issaquah, prompting bystanders to scramble for cover inside homes and beneath bleachers at a youth football game.

The day before the lethal shootout, Ficker rented a silver Kia Forte and put about 450 miles on the vehicle before abandoning the sedan at a downtown intersection. Then, he set off, carrying a pair of rifles and 952 rounds of ammunition.

The incident unfolded as frantic 911 calls from people along the gunman’s route led police to the tree-lined Clark Elementary School campus.

In the days before the incident, police said Ficker told friends, “Watch the news” and “Something big is going to happen.”

Up next: King County Executive Dow Constantine is expected to order a prosecutor-led inquest into the shooting — a fact-finding hearing conducted before a jury to examine officers’ actions.

Swedish/Issaquah opens to official fanfare

Hospital executives and designers spared no expense to create a Swedish Medical Center campus to connect to the surrounding community, and curious residents across the Eastside embraced Swedish/Issaquah on July 9, as the $365 million hospital opened to 22,000 people for a public debut.

Hospital executives, community leaders and elected representatives stood beneath a banner proclaiming “the future of health care” to open the hospital days earlier.

The hospital system and Puget Sound Energy partnered to develop a “practical ‘green’” facility — the most energy-efficient hospital in the state and perhaps the United States. In the patient areas branching from the atrium, electronic medical records augment state-of-the-art medical equipment. The reclaimed lumber and terrazzo floors inside resemble a hotel more than a health care facility.

Swedish/Issaquah started to offer more services — including childbirth and inpatient surgeries — Nov. 1 as the last portion of the 550,000-square-foot campus opened to patients.

Up next: Come July 2012, Swedish/Issaquah is projected to sustain about 1,000 jobs and continue to add capacity for patients until the need arises for up to 175 beds.

City crests 30,000 residents after boom decade

Issaquah is 170 percent larger and more diverse than a decade ago.

The city ballooned to 30,434 people — the result of a construction-and-annexation population boom. Information from the 2010 Census released in February ranked Issaquah as No. 6 on the list of fastest-growing cities in the state during the past decade.

The city claimed 11,212 residents after the 2000 Census. In the years since the last decennial count, homes sprouted in the hillside Issaquah Highlands and Talus neighborhoods. Issaquah also absorbed unincorporated King County communities in large annexations.

The outsized change also attracted outsized attention.

Issaquah, long lauded in the Puget Sound region for trailheads and salmon, earned a spot on Outside magazine’s Best Towns 2011 list for abundant outdoor recreation opportunities.

“Issaquah hasn’t been totally yuppified,” Outside noted in a cover article. “The biggest party of the year is Salmon Days, a two-day festival in October celebrating the return of the spawning fish.”

Up next: Issaquah, long ranked among the fastest-growing cities in Washington, is no longer experiencing a population boom, but the city continues to add residents.

Officials preserve Tiger Mountain forestland

The long-running saga to preserve Park Pointe — a slice of Tiger Mountain forest near Issaquah High School — ended in late March, after more than a decade of public and behind-the-scenes negotiations to halt construction of hundreds of houses once proposed for the land.

The tradeoff: Under the agreement, city leaders steered construction from Park Pointe to the Issaquah Highlands instead, and, as a result, preserved more than 140 acres in the process. The other key piece allowed construction on 35 acres adjacent to the highlands site. Bellevue College and local homebuilders plan to add a satellite campus and homes on the site.

The multipronged effort to preserve Park Pointe dominated politics and government in Issaquah for more than a decade. Then, Mayor Ava Frisinger outlined the landmark opportunity to preserve Park Pointe in late 2008, and city officials shepherded the agreement through the arduous transfer-of-development-rights process.

Up next: Bellevue College could break ground on the highlands parcel in 2012, although construction on the campus could stretch for decades.

Cyberbullying incident attracts national spotlight

On the same May morning Issaquah Middle School students received a lesson in online security, a 12-year-old Issaquah girl pleaded not guilty to cyberstalking and computer trespassing charges.

King County prosecutors said the girl and her 11-year-old friend posted lewd messages and photographs on Facebook. Investigators said the girls accessed classmate Leslie Cote’s Facebook page, scrawled the phrase “I’m a slut” across a photo and used the website’s instant messaging service to proposition boys for sexual acts.

The incident generated national attention, led to a “Today” appearance for Leslie and raised questions about bullying in the social media age.

In July, a King County Juvenile Court judge ordered the girls to complete community service and apologize to Leslie for the incident. (Under state law, the girls faced a maximum penalty of up to 30 days in juvenile detention for cyberstalking and computer trespassing.)

Up next: Issaquah School District officials and local law enforcement officers continue to remind parents, preteens and teenagers to safeguard online interactions.

Innovative fire station opens as ‘green’ showcase

The red accents on Eastside Fire & Rescue Station 72 offer a familiar façade for the “green” features incorporated into the building.

Station 72 is the most energy efficient fire station on the planet. The city and EFR spearheaded a project to create a next-generation facility as a showcase for “green” innovations in Issaquah and a model for other fire departments.

Crews completed the station for $6.8 million — less than the total $8 million budget. Upon completion in late spring, Station 72 achieved the top Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Firefighters started to operate from the building in August.

Station 72 planners said the building could deliver dividends — in reduced energy costs and, hence, costing less public money — during the decades ahead.

Up next: EFR partner Fire District 10 is due to ask voters to consider a $5.5 million bond for fire station construction in February, and Station 72-inspired elements might be a key design component.

Local girl’s death leads to flood of donations

Rachel Beckwith inspired a deluge of donations to charity.

The 9-year-old Issaquah girl died in July after a pileup along Interstate 90, but a cause she championed in life — clean water projects in developing nations — rocketed to national attention after the fatal accident.

Donations to Charity:Water, a New York-based nonprofit organization, reached $1.2 million in the months after Rachel died.

In August, Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, highlighted Rachel’s mission to raise funds for the charity.

Rachel turned 9 in June and, rather than birthday gifts, asked friends and family members to donate to Charity:Water. The girl set a $300 goal, but came up $80 short. Then, after the accident, donations started to flood the charity.

“In the midst of this grim summer, my faith in humanity has been restored by the saga of Rachel Beckwith,” Kristof wrote.

Up next: Rachel’s mother, Samantha Paul, plans to travel to Africa on the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s death to see Charity:Water in action.

Issaquah residences reshape homebuilding

YWCA Family Village at Issaquah offers shelter for people in need. The adjacent zHome offers a showcase for “green” homebuilding.

Best of Blotter

Throughout the year, the police blotter chronicles criminal masterminds, traffic snags and occasional oddities beneath tongue-in-cheek headlines.

The items included here — culled from 12 months of police reports — highlight some of the most humorous and strangest happenings from the year:

Going, going, gone

Police started a search for a missing child in the 900 block of 12th Avenue Northwest at 10:05 a.m. Oct. 10. Police said a first-grade student developed a stomachache that turned into a restroom emergency. The student then decided to walk home to Renton to take care of the problem. Citizens found the boy and stayed with him until police arrived at the scene. Officers transported the student back to school.

Whippersnapper interlopers

Police responded to a call from the Issaquah Valley Senior Center, 75 N.E. Creek Way, after a caller said men leaving the Issaquah City Jail, 130 E. Sunset Way, said they planned to go to the senior center for coffee and doughnuts at 3:05 p.m. June 29. Police advised the caller to post the age requirements for the center and ask the men to leave.

Flushing meadows

Police responded to malicious mischief in the 19200 block of Southeast 47th Street at 11:47 p.m. April 1. Someone applied toilet paper — or, rather, TP’d — to the trees and houses in the neighborhood. Police told the caller the entire neighborhood received the same treatment as her house, and she “was comforted to know that her house was not the only one targeted.”

The end is near

A resident discovered a backpack full of survival supplies in the 2900 block of 224th Avenue Southeast and turned the bag in to police Feb. 3. The backpack contained water purifiers, plastic garbage bags, rope, soap, shampoo, a bag full of lighters and matches, duct tape, fishing line, a book titled “In Time of Emergency: A Citizen’s Guide on Disasters,” and a guide to surviving nuclear attacks and natural disasters.

Grand slam

Police located a woman sleeping outside on the ground in the 18700 block of Southeast Newport Way at 4:47 a.m. Jan. 1. Residents in a nearby apartment took the intoxicated woman to a lounge at the apartment complex to warm up. She told police she had argued with her boyfriend, a resident at the complex. The boyfriend did not answer the door and the woman’s phone had a dead battery. Police transported the woman to Denny’s.

Together, the projects reshaped a neighborhood across the street from the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride. Family Village and zHome opened months apart and the residences attracted attention from around the region — and the globe.

Family Village is meant to offer 146 rental units in a “green” setting for people employed in Issaquah but unable to afford other housing in the community.

Meanwhile, next door, zHome uses zero net energy and 70 percent less water than a traditional home. Issaquah and other partners collaborated to open the 10-townhouse complex. The result: zHome ranked as the first carbon-neutral and zero-energy multifamily community in the United States.

The projects shared a Green Globe Award — King County’s top environmental honor — for rigorous efforts to incorporate “green” construction elements.

Up next: Family Village is open to residents and sales on the zHome units started after public open houses concluded in late autumn.

City OKs medical marijuana collective gardens

In a landmark decision meant to balance concerns about patients’ rights and public safety, City Council members set rules in early December for medical marijuana collective gardens to limit such operations near schools, parks and other collective gardens.

The process to craft a medical marijuana ordinance started after a patient-run medical marijuana operation, GreenLink Collective, opened downtown last year. Changes in state law for medical marijuana also shifted in early 2011.

In June, council members imposed a moratorium on collective gardens as local and state officials scrambled to ease patient access to medical marijuana, despite conflicts between state and federal laws.

City planners then spent months collecting input from medical marijuana patients, law enforcement officers, elected leaders and residents to craft the ordinance. The result is a milestone in the effort to clarify jumbled rules for medical marijuana and untangle different rules related to the drug.

Up next: The moratorium on medical marijuana collective gardens ended Dec. 19, and city officials expect to accept applications from patients interested in establishing Issaquah operations.

Village Theatre’s rebuilt First Stage Theatre debuts

The curtain rose on the downtown First Stage Theatre in early April after a $3.1 million reconstruction project to duplicate the original 1913 structure.

Village Theatre opened First Stage Theatre to audiences after years spent planning and reconstructing the brick-red-and-hunter-green structure.

The rebuilt theater doubled classroom and rehearsal space for the 32-year-old Village Theatre. The project also offered a stage for the theater to polish original musicals for the Village Theatre Mainstage — and beyond.

(The dual-stage setup is common for regional theaters across the United States: a smaller stage for edgier fare and a larger stage for large-scale productions.)

Broadway-bound musicals “Next to Normal” and “Million Dollar Quartet” germinated at the old First Stage Theatre during the last decade. The productions picked up Tony Awards on Broadway, and “Next to Normal” earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for musicals.

Up next: Teenage performers plan to present the musical “Godspell” at First Stage Theatre in January, and the space could again serve as a venue for Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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One Response to “Milestones from the year 2011 reflect changes”

  1. Jamie Fenderson on January 1st, 2012 9:02 pm

    Great round-up of 2011 Issaquah Press!

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