Tahoma and county resume discussions

Officials from Tahoma School District and King County recently resurrected discussions related to the district’s purchase of 35 acres in the Donut Hole.

Officials from Tahoma School District and King County recently resurrected discussions related to the district’s purchase of 35 acres in the Donut Hole.

This comes after both parties walked away from a years worth of negotiations in February. Recent developments in the state Legislature helped bring the parties back together, specifically the approval of Senate Bill 5417, which will allow the city to annex the property. Not long after that came about, the county lowered its asking price, according to information Tahoma Superintendent Mike Maryanski provided to the Maple Valley City Council during a joint meeting of the council, the Tahoma School Board and Maple Valley Fire commissioners May 29.

In addition, state senators Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, of the 47th and 5th legislative districts respectively, have partnered with Rep. Pat Sullivan, a Democrat from Covington who represents the 47th, to try and get $4 million for the purchase funded through the state’s capital budget. The House included the money for the Tahoma project in its budget and Fain and Mullet are working to add it to the Senate’s version.

That $4 million would go toward the purchase price for the property in the Donut Hole which the district envisions as the future home of a new high school which could help alleviate the districts overcrowding issues.

“Basically the day after we got the Donut Hole bill passed then I shifted gears to the $4 million capital request,” Mullet said. “It basically will guarantee you can site the new high school there. It makes no sense to have the high school out on the edge of the city.”

The Donut Hole is 156 acres of county-owned property located off Southeast Kent-Kangley Road and 228th Street Southeast. It is designated rural and unincorporated yet is wholly surrounded by the city of Maple Valley. It is home to nine holes of Elk Run Golf Course, a 13-acre county transportation maintenance facility and a large stand of trees.

The district’s last construction bond measure failed in April 2011 and administrators started considering their options.

One option was to site a new school on property the district owns adjacent to Tahoma Junior High, which is located outside the urban growth boundary — a line that separates urban development from rural spaces.

At the same time county officials began to change county policies on school construction outside the urban growth boundary.

Initially Maryanski floated the idea of a land swap — the 30 acres next to the junior high for a chunk of land inside the Donut Hole — but the district and the county moved beyond that to negotiations to sell the property to TSD.

After the county and district discontinued negotiations in February, the School Board began to consider its options for grade realignment as it prepared for a possible construction bond measure in November.

At the same time, district staff searched within the urban growth boundary for another potential site for a new high school.

In February, the board got a report which offered six options of grade alignment, which it then narrowed down to two:

• Glacier Park, Rock Creek, Shadow Lake, Cedar River and Tahoma — the latter two are currently middle schools for sixth and seventh graders — would serve as elementary schools for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Tahoma High and Tahoma Junior High would then become middle schools for students in grades six through eight. This option would then shift students from Lake Wilderness Elementary, which would no longer be used as a school, with 500 students who would need to be housed in portable classrooms across the district by 2020.

• Building A of Lake Wilderness, which was built in 1986, would be expanded so it would continue to be used as a K-5 elementary along with Glacier Park, Rock Creek, Shadow Lake, Cedar River and Tahoma. Meanwhile, the original portion of the building which was constructed in 1959, would be demolished. Using Lake Wilderness would not require putting students in portables. This would add about $15 to $17 million to the cost of the bond, making it potentially $135 million to $140 million.

District spokesman Kevin Patterson said the board would, ideally, make a decision before the end of June regarding a construction bond. A new high school would cost anywhere from $90 to $110 million, based on the price tags for similar projects in the area recently such as Auburn High, which voters approved a $100 million construction bond measure to renovate.

Patterson wrote in an email that if the state Senate includes the $4 million in its capital budget “and the governor signs the budget, then we will use it and our own funds to resume our efforts to purchase property from the county. We don’t have a formal agreement yet with the county but they are very interested.”

Mullet said the key to getting the money into the Senate’s capital budget is going to talk to legislators face-to-face and persuade them on the merits of the allocation.

“Lake Wilderness is the largest elementary in the state, they have the three largest in the state, so, that’s what I point to, the sheer capacity issues,” Mullet said. “They’re still producing the results but the rally is: it’s time to pass a school bond and improve capacity. This $4 million allocation is going to be a big part of passing the school bond this fall.”

Mullet said this allocation is high on his list of priorities, which has grown shorter as the special session marched on.

One thing which could help persuade legislators in the Senate to support the $4 million allocation, Mullet said, is the fact he crossed the aisle to work with Fain.

“It’s a bi-partisan deal, which is really nice,” Mullet said. “People realize it’s not a partisan favor, this is important to a community.”

Still, as of Monday afternoon, there is still a fair amount which needs to be settled.

“We need to come to a consensus about the size of the overall general fund before we can start plugging projects into the capital budget,” Fain said. “But I think there’s real life in that project and there’s great bi-partisan agreement that it’s the right project for that piece of property.”

Fain said he supports the vision for a new high school in the Donut Hole because it will achieve so much more than providing additional space for Tahoma students and he supports the project, even though it is not in his district, because he believes it’s best for children.

“It’s clear that we’re seeing more and more families choose southeast King County as a place to raise their families which means we’re seeing more and more overcrowding,” Fain said. “We know there’s a growing sentiment in the community that we can’t have our students living in portables all day long. Also the type of project that the district is considering, having a skill center bent to it, engaging with local businesses, trying to do public-private partnerships to not only benefit the students they’re bringing through the district but for the businesses who are looking for that pipeline of skilled employees. It seems like this type of a concept is a win-win-win.”

Fain said Maryanski and the Tahoma School District did it right by approaching businesses experiencing a shortage in skilled employees to find out what it needs to do to help students connect with those career options.

Thanks to the passage of the annexation bill, Fain said, he won’t have to explain the situation to state senators as he pitches them on the upside of the $4 million allocation for Tahoma.

“While that Donut Hole bill is not an end-all, be-all solution on how that land develops in the next few years, it was a good first step,” Fain said. “There is probably no legislator in Olympia that doesn’t know what we’re talking about when we say Donut Hole which is … something people in the Covington-Maple Valley community can take great appreciation in the fact that every legislator is well-versed on what is going on in that part of the community.”

Time will tell — sometime between now and the start of the new fiscal year July 1 — if the $4 million makes it into the state capital budget but that could make all the difference when it comes to Tahoma School District’s vision of the future.