Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a huge park lover. Right after the short commute to Seattle, the other reason I moved to Mercer Island is the parks and open space. I even wrote a book about walking in them because I love these trails so much and want others to appreciate and use them as much as I do. So consider me completely biased on this topic. I love our parks. In my opinion, if we don’t get this bond passed in April, we park lovers better get ready to rumble.
The opponents’ “better solution” is to build one new elementary school on the North End – but decidedly NOT on the school districts’ North Mercer Campus. If we miraculously could afford the $450K/year in overhead (which we can’t, see earlier post: Why the One School Idea is a Really, Really Bad One), where might we put it?
If you rule out the North Mercer campus (which is not supported by the NO campaign and is most likely politically unfeasible because of the PEAK controversy), the only possible North End site that isn’t a park is the Honeywell/City Hall property which would cost a fortune, and require that City Hall and their maintenance facility to be sited in a new location. Maybe a possibility in 5 or 10 years, but not for a capacity issue that needed to be solved a year ago.
The other three mentioned locations are all on our public parks – 1) Luther Burbank Park Pea Patch 2) Mercerdale Park and 3) The Coval property + turning Upper Luther Burbank Park into a parking lot. During the 21CFPC meetings, Michael Finn, now one of the leaders of the NO committee proved that he has absolutely no issues with building a school on one of our parks.
Mr. Finn has written documents and made statements about siting schools on the Pea Patch hill next to the Community Center (his proposal contends that the City would simply give the school district the land because the school district was allowing the city to use the South Mercer playfields as a city park.) Most on the committee thought the idea was absurd, but a few didn’t—which in itself is interesting. There was a similar rally from a small fraction of the 21CFPC later (including Mr. Finn) that thought that building a school on Mercerdale Park was a brilliant idea. They insisted the committee create size-to-fit drawings to see what it would look like and set up meetings with people they thought would have influence on such a decision. Again, most of the committee thought the idea absurd, but a few didn’t.
If this bond fails, the NO campaign will use the failure of the bond to validate their contention that a one-school option is what the community really wants – even though the community may be voting NO for other reasons, and even though our school district can’t afford a 4th elementary school. It will come up as an option for discussion for a future bond, and because of this, a bond failure will reinvigorate discussion and exploration of North End locations – including our parks—opening up that whole can of worms again.
Thankfully, I think the political realities of Mercer Island in relation to its parks will ultimately prevent a school from being built on one. The Open Space Conservatory Trust was created to protect our incredible open space found in Pioneer Park after a group on the Island came close to creating a golf course on it. The Friends of Luther Burbank Park is one of the most influential lobbies on the Island – doing a great service to Islanders as watchdogs of Luther Burbank Park and Upper Luther Burbank Park, and we have lots of other groups ready and willing to rally to the defense of development on our parkland. But having the battle will be nasty and will take time—time that we simply don’t have.
If this bond fails, the school community will be frantic for expanded capacity, since the action will delay the opening of the first new school until 2017, and will require that we locate portables on either South Mercer Playfields or on the North Mercer campus. When that happens, the “angry moms” will come out in force – they may even decide it’s better to have a school on a park than have their kids at a portable school, but even if they don’t, it will add to the urgency of the situation.
With all of this pressure, I’m afraid that we as a community will make a poor, too fast decision on a 4th school site, or we won’t be able to come to agreement and we’ll eat up valuable time while school quality (and related property values) will drop quickly. Either option is very bad.
All of this helps explain why the option we have on the table is the best option available to us. Why go through all of this, when the current bond solves the problem without all the discussion about trading park land for schools? This bond will:
- Utilize our current school properties to their fullest and solve the immediate capacity issue quickly.
- Add the Stevenson property to the mix allow the district flexibility and a bargaining chip when and if the City Hall property might be desired for a school of the future.
- It gives time for anyone stupid enough to think putting a school on a park time to get sufficient feedback about that idea.
- Create multi-story schools will free up space on existing properties for fields which will reduce the pressure to put fields on our parklands
- Create a mega-block master plan that will demonstrate how much space will be available after our new multistory high school is built on the property (in 20 years) which might be a home for things like a future community theater or pool, again protecting our parks.
I am NOT looking forward to the discussion that will ensue about our parks if this bond fails. Park lovers…it’s time to get on board so we don’t have to go into the ring.