Board says no to Des Moines school rebuild

By Eric Mathison

It was Des Moines Elementary parents’ turn at the June 4 Highline School Board meeting to complain about the proposed $385 million school construction bond.

The parents objected to the district’s plan to build the new Des Moines Elementary in Zenith at South 240th Street and 16th Place South. The school is currently located at 22001 9th Ave. S., just east of downtown Des Moines. The previous week, Evergreen High students and teachers told board members that their school should be completely rebuilt instead of just repaired.

But, as expected, board members voted unanimously to place the construction bond measure, without changes, on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

If approved by voters, the bond would fund the rebuilding of Highline High at its current Burien site and the replacing of Des Moines Elementary in Zenith. The Evergreen and Tyee High complexes would be extensively renovated but not rebuilt.

Middle schools would be built at the Manhattan site, 440 S. 186th St. in Burien, and the Glacier site, 2450 S. 142nd St. in SeaTac.

The bond would also fund technology, capital and “critical needs” improvements throughout the district.

Administrators point to the twin problems of growing enrollment and deteriorating buildings as justifications for the bond measure.

“As our buildings age, repairs and maintenance are becoming more and more expensive, draining money away from the classroom,” Chief of Staff Duggan Harman was quoted as saying in a district release. “In addition, these older buildings do not have the electrical capacity to support the educational technology our students need to be prepared for the workplace of tomorrow.”

Proponents are hoping to convince the disgruntled White Center and Des Moines parents to back the bond, as the measure needs a 60 percent approval rate to pass.

Des Moines Elementary parents complained that moving the school away from the downtown core would threaten small businesses and homeowner property values.

They said people coming to the school shop and eat at nearby businesses. The speakers also said surrounding businesses contribute to the school’s activities.

“You would destroy the heart of Des Moines,” parent Laura Castronover declared.

The parents pointed to the nearby library and field house as safe places students go after school.

They said the Zenith site is too dangerous because commuters from Highline Community College and elsewhere heavily use South 240th Street.

They also noted that two other rebuilt elementaries—Parkside and Midway—are within one mile of the new location.

“My school has soul,” parent Chris Clevish declared in arguing that the spirit at the small downtown site could not be replicated at Zenith.

Board member Bernie Dorsey replied that the spirit of a school is not about the structure but what happens inside the building. He predicted the parents and school staff would “rise to the challenge” of transferring the spirit to a new location.

Board president Michael Spear, a 20-year Des Moines resident, said the district undertook a major four-year process in reaching the decision on what to place on the bond.

In offering to meet with the upset parents, Spear noted, “the board hasn’t acted inappropriately.”

Superintendent Susan Enfield pointed to the “unprecedented community outreach” in putting together the proposed bond package.

“I’m very proud of the work that has been done,” Enfield concluded.

District officials estimate the average homeowner will pay an additional $226.92 per year ($18.91 per month) on the $385.1 million bond. That is based on the Highline’s average home value of $201,900 at a rate of $1.12 per $1,000 of assessed value.