Thursday, April 24, 2014


The April 22nd Bond measure doesn’t look like it will make the 60% approval it needs to pass.  Yes, I’m pleased, but instead of cheering “We Win!” or moaning “We Lose!” let’s come up with solutions to the problem instead of name calling or blaming the other side.

Using the assumption that the District still has access to the unused $10 million from the 2011 Bond for $65.4 million I have a few recommendations to offer.

Overcrowding in existing schools

To resolve the issue of overcrowding at Rockwell Elementary, I propose that the district replace the portables with building structures similar to the addition at RHS.  Rockwell is expecting enrollment of 723 students by the 2015-2016 school year with a capacity of 460 students in “regular” (non-portable) classrooms.  There are 5 portables on site (appendix A) with a total capacity of 115 students (that calculates to 23 student per portable capacity; although there can be as many as 30).

The “brick building” classroom addition at Redmond High School was built at approximately $800,000 (rounded up for simplification).  That building contained 14 classrooms in a two story building that could provide space for roughly 420 students. The cost of building a portable is roughly $400,000 (rounded up). A portable contains two classrooms and provides space for between 45 to 60 students.

For the cost of two portables, Rockwell could build one brick building similar to the RHS structure and have 14 classrooms ready for students.  Even if the neighborhood had height restrictions or capacity regulations (I’m not clear on these); the District could build a single story building with 5-7 classrooms and still financially be below the cost of 5 portables while using the same amount of space currently being used.  The District could then remove the additional portables from the site.

Cost to replace two portables with one 14 classroom building: $1 to $1.5 million (my estimation; includes permitting, etc.)  Using the 30 student/classroom calculation, this could increase the capacity of Rockwell from 460 to between 670 (7 classrooms) and 880 (14 classrooms).

This leaves approximately $8.5 million left to use for other building projects.  I recommend that the District use the above method to replace all portables with actual buildings in at minimum 5 schools that are overcrowded or in danger of overcrowding creating more permanent classrooms and removing the need for portables.


It is true that Juanita, Rockwell and other older buildings are in need of “modernization”; we also need to look to the future and build additional buildings for incoming growth.   So, to that end, I recommend the District begin looking at each project individually and not as a block.  Taxpayers have voted with their checkbooks and decided against writing the District a “blank check” for use over several projects that are undefined, unplanned and vague.

Plans and property information should be provided BEFORE the bond funds are requested so that taxpayers can see what the money is going for directly. The District should provide plans with each project for each school that outlines number of classrooms, capacity limits, building layout and plans for over capacity during the 30-40 year building life.  If the project is acceptable, the bond measure would most likely be approved by the voters.

Planning ahead

Although schools should be safe, environmentally friendly and efficiently structured, it is also the District’s duty to use funds wisely and with long term plans in view.  The District has added two NEW buildings in twelve years – Rosa Parks and Rachel Carson Elementary schools, modernized many others and has seen an increase in 1,400 students in that same time period.  Plans for two more elementary schools were not begun until the 2010 bond request (which was rejected by voters).  Many of the ‘modernized’ buildings have been completed with the same number of classrooms as the original buildings, yet increased building square-footage.

The District has had the same information as the taxpayers from City councils regarding growth patterns, housing market and residency numbers.  They boast award-winning schools that are both impressive and environmentally friendly; take pride in above-standard test scores yet seem oblivious that more families would move here to take advantage of those award-winning schools.

District representatives have claimed that ‘generous’ variances are the reason for the wild fluctuations in school crowding; I recommend that variances be discontinued and that boundaries be tightened or widened depending on population/capacity needs.  

Representatives also stress that the change to four year high schools brought on the problems; then the District should have been more aggressive in planning in advance for the increased capacity needs of buildings, rather than holding the taxpayer hostage for more funds for undetermined projects or shoving “temporary classrooms” (portables) on existing sites.  Lake Washington High School modernization began in 2009; the District announced plans for the class restructuring in 2010.  Lake Washington High School opened in fall of 2011.  There was adequate time in that two year period to adjust construction to prepare for the increase in students that has now become a crisis.  This pattern of inattention has carried through in many of the building projects that were in process or have been completed since 2010.

The District repeats that the goal for our students is to make them “future ready”, yet spends hundreds of thousands on landscaping, esthetically pleasing buildings and futuristic designs.  Those stunning buildings and manicured grounds are not are not built to last for the 30 years of expansion and use they claim they are intended for.

Will any of these issues resolve the current overcrowding?  Are they realistic?  I am only offering a few solutions to a problem that seems to be on-going and far-reaching.

What solutions can you come up with?

Other links:  

Horace Mann Parent Meeting

Redmond Neighborhood Blog

Six Year Capital Facility Plan 

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