Issaquah School Board is unhappy about King County’s school site decisions

May 8, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Members of the Issaquah School Board were unhappy to hear last week that a district-owned 80-acre property is most likely unusable.

“We own the land. If the county wants to condemn it then they can pay us and we’ll go find something else,” board member Brian Deagle said.

The board got the bad news at its April 26 meeting, when it received an update about the recent recommendations of the King County School Siting Task Force.

In his presentation to the board, Steve Crawford, director of capital projects for the Issaquah School District, explained that one of the recommendations is for Issaquah to basically give up the nearly 80 acres of land it owns on Southeast May Valley Road. The $1.4 million property, which sits between Squak Mountain to the north and the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill to the south, is outside of King County’s urban growth boundary.

The urban growth boundary is a state-mandated area put in place by the county. In an effort to reduce sprawl and preserve open areas, growth is supposed to be concentrated inside the boundary. The Issaquah district straddles the boundary, with students living both inside and outside of it.

Following the logic that suburban sprawl follows new schools, the county last year decided to begin enforcing a 20-year-old regulation forbidding students who live inside the boundary from being served by a school outside the boundary.

For the Issaquah district, that means the May Valley Road property would be off-limits to many of its students. If the district needed to build a new school, it would have to somehow find the money to buy new urban property to build on, instead of developing the land it bought years ago.

“I am worried about the finances of the crescent districts 20 years from now,” school board President Chad Magendanz said.

Issaquah along with the Northshore, Lake Washington, Snoqualmie, Kent and Tahoma school districts are in similar situations, with students inside the boundary and school sites outside it. Collectively, the districts own 18 properties outside of the urban growth boundary.

Magendanz’s worries were echoed at the meeting by the other board members. He suggested that district officials fight the decision now, and might schedule a closed session on the topic since there may be a lawsuit.

Crawford pointed out the decision doesn’t make the property totally useless. Students from outside the boundary could still go to a school built on the property.

“Attendance population doesn’t stop at the urban growth boundary,” Crawford said. “I think this is realistically a better position than what was headed down the tracks last year.”

Crawford was one of seven people representing school districts on the 29-person siting task force, which met periodically between December and March. The group was formed last fall by the King County Growth Management Planning Council to look for possible compromises to the council’s original proposal, which was even more restrictive.

The group concluded its work March 29. Its recommendations included allowing for the use of sites with an identified immediate need, a chance for some districts to be compensated for properties that don’t have an identified need and flexible redevelopment options for schools that already exists on rural sites.

“Flexible redevelopment options for existing school sites (such as Endeavor, Pacific Cascade, Apollo and Maple Hills) is a key consideration,” Issaquah’s CFO Jacob Kuper told the school board in an April 25 email.

That is important, he explained, because normal land use policies say that those sites would be converted to “nonconforming uses” and limited to a one-time expansion of only 10 percent.

“In my opinion, it’s not much better,” Magendanz said.

Next, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s office is expected to use the recommendations to propose new countywide planning policies. From there the proposal will need to be considered and approved by the Growth Management Planning Council before going to the King County Council for final adoption. All of that, according to Kuper’s email, is likely to happen before the end of the year.

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242 or Comment at

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3 Responses to “Issaquah School Board is unhappy about King County’s school site decisions”

  1. Capri on May 9th, 2012 8:58 am

    What a total waste of our tax dollars. What is King county doing?! These school districts that have already bought these lands for MILLIONS of dollars should be able to use them. In the future, school districts shouldnt be able to buy land for new schools. But this idea is just absurd. I hope the Issaquah School District takes legal action against these horrible policies.

  2. HenryC on May 9th, 2012 2:10 pm

    I don’t get it. King County can still restrict sprawling neighborhood development in these areas. Why restrict where the schools can build?

  3. Ken on May 10th, 2012 8:55 pm

    While I have some sympathy for the Issaquah School Board’s unhappiness with new, much needed school siting recommendations, I would urge that they consider the bigger picture.

    There has been a continued pattern of school districts buying cheaper RURAL-ZONED lands for new school sites to serve URBAN students. Rural zoned lands are for rural uses, i.e. single homes on acreage, farming, forestry. It’s improper, environmentally damaging, and defeats efforts to properly manage growth to site any large facility on rural land, particularly schools, who then demand urban water and sewer service be extended into the rural area to support their urban facility. This violates all precepts of growth management and the need to carefully balance HOW we grow with the absolute need to protect our environment and our quality of life.

    It’s flat wrong to say that the county is “condemning” the district’s land. The district can sell it anytime for what is no doubt a nice profit. And really, in all honesty, isn’t it rather illogical to build a school far out on rural land in May Valley to serve masses of urban students who must all be bused back and forth each day? How is that good for students, families, the community, or the environnment? Schools should only be sited in the urban neighborhoods of the students they serve.

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