Growth is focus as City Council, Issaquah School Board meet

May 1, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

City and Issaquah School District leaders pledged coordination and cooperation as the city outlines a bold plan to add thousands of residences in the decades ahead.

Chad Magendanz

Discussion about the Central Issaquah Plan — a proposal to transform more than 900 acres near Interstate 90 and state Route 900 — and possible changes to the school district, such as redrawing boundaries for schools to accommodate population shifts, dominated the annual joint meeting April 24.

City Council and Issaquah School Board members, plus Mayor Ava Frisinger and Superintendent Steve Rasmussen and other officials, gathered at Mandarin Garden a week after school district voters approved a $219 million bond to fuel a school construction boom. The planned projects include major changes for schools in downtown Issaquah.

The groups, seated beneath red lanterns and arranged around lazy Susans, sipped tea and nibbled on fried rice and roast pork as discussion unfolded about long-term development plans. (The city hosted the meal and spent $311.24 on food and beverages.)

“Both organizations have gone from fast-growing organizations to more stable, mature organizations with different sets of issues,” Council President Tola Marts said. “So, now the challenge is how do we manage the remaining growth that we have?”

City planners proposed adding 2,000 to 7,000 housing units in the 915-acre business district as the Central Issaquah Plan comes to fruition in the coming decades.

The plan aims to transform the area from strip malls and low-rise office buildings into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Such a shift could mean more children headed to local campuses.

“If I wind up voting for something at the end of the year that’s a development agreement, I want to have an idea of how the schools piece of it is likely to fall out before I vote on that, because I don’t want to create fear, uncertainty and doubt in that area,” Marts said.

Rasmussen said school district and city officials must operate “in lockstep” as development causes more students to join the district. However, challenges remain, in part due to limited space in the area.

“Finding another school site in the valley is going to take some coordination, to say the least,” said Jake Kuper, school district chief of finance and operations.

‘One of our best assets’

Closer on the horizon is a proposed project on land near the Issaquah Highlands.

The city and landowner Lakeside Industries Inc. embarked on a process late last year to transform 80 acres into businesses and residences. If approved, the initial phase could add homes near the Issaquah Highlands Park & Ride.

Construction in the area could mean more students for Grand Ridge Elementary School, a crowded campus and a popular school. The campus opened in September 2006, as construction boomed in the surrounding highlands neighborhood.

Changes authorized in the latest bond measure could alleviate development pressures, officials said.

“Clark, as a brand new school, I think, will have a lot more appeal to folks up on the hill,” school board President Chad Magendanz said. “I hope that’s the case. The same is true of Sunny Hills.”

The bond measure also authorized dollars to rebuild Sunny Hills Elementary School on the Sammamish Plateau.

“If their kids are in the Issaquah School District — whether it’s Grand Ridge, whether it’s Sunny Hills — they are getting an Issaquah-level education, and what we want of our teachers at one school is what we want of teachers at all of our schools,” school board member Marnie Maraldo said.

The joint meeting afforded city officials a chance to tout a reformulated planning and permitting process to school district officials.

The process could prove useful as crews demolish and rebuild Clark Elementary, Issaquah Middle and Tiger Mountain Community High schools in a careful choreography. The overall project cost to replace the downtown Issaquah campuses is estimated at $108.6 million.

City officials also said the school district is a crucial piece in a refocused economic development initiative.

“One of our best assets is the school district,” City Administrator Bob Harrison said. “So, as we go out, there may be opportunities to recruit corporate headquarters or whatever that may be coming here, having a team not just of our Economic Vitality Commission but school representatives that can talk about what a tremendous asset it is is going to be really important.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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