‘What about us?’ Evergreen students ask as board mulls $385 million bond to build Highline, other schools
By Eric Mathison
The Highline School Board is expected on June 4 to send to the voters a $385 million bond measure that would fund the rebuilding of Highline High and Des Moines Elementary as well as build two new middle schools.
The bond measure would need a 60 percent approval margin on the Nov. 4 general election ballot to pass.
Highline High would be rebuilt on its current site while Des Moines Elementary would be built on South 240th Street in Zenith, instead of its current site near downtown Des Moines.
Administrators contemplated offering a much cheaper bond option that would not have included Highline High. But they concluded conditions at the high school, built in 1923, had deteriorated to the point where it needed to be replaced.
The two new middle schools would be constructed at the old Manhattan site in Burien and Glacier site in SeaTac. The district plans to move sixth graders into middle schools to help alleviate overcrowding in elementary schools.
The bond would also fund major renovations at the Evergreen High and Tyee High campuses. In addition, it would fund technology and arts education improvements throughout the district and other “critical needs.”
Several Evergreen students and teachers told board members May 28 that poor conditions at Evergreen also warranted the school being rebuilt.
Kiana Makiana, a sophomore at Technology, Engineering and Communications (TEC) High School on the Evergreen campus, said she loved attending school there but Evergreen is labeled a “ghetto school’ because of the building conditions.
“Mt. Rainier and Aviation don’t face that,” she declared.
Mt. Rainier High in Des Moines was rebuilt in 2007 with funds from the previous bond measure. Raisbeck Aviation High, across from the Museum of Flight, opened in 2013, with extensive funding from business and private donations.
Speakers from Evergreen detailed condition problems including asbestos in floors and hallways, poor ventilation, presence of rodents, lack of hot water, mold in the walls, and lack of science facilities.
They argued that the district projected it would cost $24.9 million to renovate Evergreen, only slightly less than the cost to rebuild Highline.
However, Chief Operating Officer Susan Smith Leland said the comparison costs were for fixing critical needs at the two schools. Rebuilding a high school costs over $150 million, according to Leland.
Board member Tyrone Curry, an Evergreen track coach, sympathized with the Evergreen speakers.
“It is a tough decision about what schools to build,” Curry said. “I have worked at Evergreen and know the conditions. But we have to do first things first. Highline (High) and Des Moines (Elementary) have been around for a long time.”
Board member Susan Goding added that the district wants to rebuild Evergreen and Tyee but will be at the borrowing capacity with the projected $385 million bond.
Before Leland announced the staff recommendation to rebuild their high school, Highline teachers and students detailed poor building conditions at the school.
They included unsanitary restrooms, windows that won’t open, poor air quality and security concerns.
Highline High teacher Carinna Tarvin noted, “out front it looks pretty but inside it is rotting.”
She said she thought being in a bad building was just part of teaching in a high-needs district until she attended a meeting at Mt. Rainier.
“Convince us you mean what you say when you talk about equity,” Tarvin challenged board members.
Leland said construction and renovation is needed because of the twin problems of growth in student enrollment and buildings that are aging.
The district projects enrollment will increase by more than 2,000 students over the next decade. The state is offering additional funding for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade but the district has no more elementary classrooms, according to administrators.
Leland said bond costs to homeowners would be $1.12 per $1,000 of assessed home value. For the owner of a $201,900 home, the average value in Highline, the yearly cost would be $226.92. The projected cost per month is The $18.91 figure is before deductions.
Lois Schipper, Highline Citizens for Schools chair, said her group’s polling show there is strong support for the bond. She said poll respondents favored rebuilding schools over trying to repair old buildings.