Issaquah School District finishes school projects, delays others
August 26, 2014
By Neil Pierson
Staff members, parents and students at Apollo and Issaquah Valley elementary schools have been waiting years for their buildings to be refurbished, and their wishes will be granted when school starts Sept. 3.
The two elementary schools were major pieces of a $219 million bond measure that Issaquah School District voters approved in April 2012. Issaquah Valley and Apollo received about $6.6 million each for similar modernization projects that focused on creating additional classroom spaces, improving building security and upgrading existing spaces for a continued influx of new students.
The district is expecting to add 350 students in the 2014-15 year, and projections released last year showed the school system could grow by more than 2,800 students over the next 30 years.
Much of the boom could take place in downtown Issaquah, making Issaquah Valley a prime location for expansion now. The school, built in 1969, housed about 560 students last year. Eight new classrooms — enough room for 130 new students — are part of the multimillion-dollar upgrades.
Apollo, in the East Renton Highlands, had an enrollment of 620 students last year. The school built in 1970 underwent a major remodel in 1995. Like Issaquah Valley, it has also expanded its footprint with eight new classrooms and more small-group instructional spaces.
At the Issaquah School Board’s Aug. 13 meeting, district Director of Capital Projects Steve Crawford said the buildings are virtually complete — some exterior trim work, curb construction and parking lot paving remains — and staff members were able to start moving into the new spaces in early August.
“The inside is finished and ready to go,” Crawford said.
Liberty High School will also open with freshly-renovated facilities. The three-phase modernization project there — completed at a cost of $44.6 million — is the school’s first major refurbishment since 1998.
Crawford said Aug. 13 that several items needed to be completed during the final weeks of August, including carpeting, flooring and ceiling tiles. Staff members were prepared for a “rolling move-in,” Crawford said. The first new furniture and classroom materials were scheduled for delivery last week.
The school’s shop area, which houses materials sciences and ceramics classes, may not be ready for the first day of school, Crawford noted. Contractors couldn’t begin work on that area until the end of classes in June. Mechanical, electrical and data systems were part of the upgrades, along with new ceilings, paint, and wall and floor finishes.
“It’s a real scramble down there, particularly as it was a remodel area, and there were some discoveries made after we were able to get in and start tearing things open,” Crawford explained.
The district has a contingency plan in place if the area isn’t ready Sept. 3, he added, and the contractor would essentially have five extra days to finish if it worked through the following weekend.
While some of the district’s projects from the 2012 bond measure are nearly finished, others have been delayed for a variety of reasons.
Officials announced Aug. 12 that the Issaquah Middle and Clark Elementary schools’ projects would be shelved for a year because estimates for the new IMS exceeded the $62.5 million budget. Clark’s completion is contingent on the middle school’s completion, since the new Clark will be built on the existing IMS site.
The district has been attempting to design a taller middle school that would allow for future expansion, since long-term population estimates for downtown Issaquah continue to grow. That was one reason construction estimates went over budget.
Groundbreaking for the IMS project is now slated for July 2015. The school is scheduled to open in fall 2016, and Clark would follow in fall 2017.
Superintendent Ron Thiele said the original timeline for the two schools was aggressive, and principals at both schools indicated their preference to wait a year for new buildings, even though a mid-year move could’ve been accomplished.
“It is one of those things with school construction — you miss a window and you miss a year,” Thiele said. “And that’s where we’re at, but we’re committed to doing our projects on budget, and doing them well.”
Officials said delaying those projects would have no effect on the Sunny Hills Elementary School project, which is still scheduled for a fall 2017 completion. Sunny Hills’ reconstruction, which comes with a $27.1 million price tag, was the other major piece of the 2012 bond measure.
Meanwhile, Skyline High School’s stadium project, originally supposed to be finished in 2013, had another setback. The project was tentatively slated for an August start, but Thiele said work likely wouldn’t begin until November so construction doesn’t disrupt fall sports.
The $6.5 million stadium project has been a point of contention between district officials and Skyline football boosters, who believe their ideas have been ignored and that the project could be completed for less money.