Delays, inflation, litigation, added permitting costs and new site requirements have caused a large increase in expenses for the district’s fourth comprehensive high school. The high school is one piece of the $533.5 million construction bond measure approved by voters in 2016. That package included plans to build a sixth middle school and two new elementary schools. It also funded the rebuild of Pine Lake Middle School, and the critical expansion and modernization of Beaver Lake Middle School and six elementary schools.
Many of the bond projects have now been completed, with several major exceptions. Cougar Mountain Middle School is in the final stages of construction, with students and staff slated to move in early in 2022. Still underway are the planning and construction of the fourth high school and the 17th elementary school, two projects that have been severely impacted by challenges such as delays during the permitting process, changes in code requirements, supply chain issues, and pandemic-related problems.
“These factors have had a drastic effect on the timeline and costs associated with the projects funded by the 2016 bond,” Superintendent Ron Thiele said. “When we were planning these projects, we could never have foreseen a global pandemic, the legal challenges connected to acquiring buildable property within the Urban Growth Area or the rapid rise in the rate of inflation. I’m incredibly proud of this team and our organization’s ability to accomplish what we’ve been able to do, given the obstacles we faced.”
- Those accomplishments have included:
- Completing the vast majority of our promised 2016 bond projects.
- Performing safety and security measures at all existing sites.
- Renovating the Holly Street administration building into an early learning center.
- Acquiring 70 buildable acres within the UGA – enough land for five school sites.
High School 4, Elementary 17 Updates
The story of the district’s fourth high school began years before the 2016 bond, with the search for potential building locations, and a site had still not been selected by the time the measure went before voters. The hunt for school sites has been complicated in the past decade by several primary factors. In 2012, King County officials determined that new school construction must occur within its Urban Growth Boundary. In east King County and throughout the Issaquah School District, parcels of land that are large enough for schools are nearly nonexistent. Traditionally, the minimum amount of land required to build an elementary school is about 10 acres; a middle school, 20 acres; a high school, 40 acres. School sites also must be relatively close to the children they will serve, and must have adequate and safe access for buses. In the case of the fourth high school, the district purchased land along 228th Avenue Southeast, where Providence Heights College and City Church had been located.
When the bond package was planned, the high school project was estimated at $120 million. Two years’ worth of inflation were built into the original estimates for the high school, but an additional six years’ worth of inflation due to project delays have increased the cost of the high school by about $36.6 million. Permitting and code requirements from local municipalities have also changed. For example, the district is now required to create a parking garage, for an estimated cost of $6 million. Other unforeseen cost increases for the high school project include:
- Additional street and frontage improvements on 228th Avenue Southeast: $4 million.
- Site development to enlarge buffers beyond what is required by code, in order to act in partnership with neighboring property owners: $3.1 million.
- Additional permitting: $3.25 million.
- COVID-19 related factors including supply chain issues, raw material pricing, increased labor expenses, delays and more: $10 million.
The current, revised estimate for the fourth high school is $182.9 million. District officials are disappointed that costs have increased so dramatically for the high school project; however, there is still a need for a fourth comprehensive high school because enrollment is holding steady at the high school level even during the pandemic. Meanwhile, elementary enrollment has decreased by about 1,300 students since October 2019. The 17th elementary will still be needed, but the lower enrollment has lessened the strain on elementary district staff and facilities. As a result, the district will put the 17th elementary school project on hold.
For efficiency, and because the elementary will be located on the same property as the new high school, $15 million of the money designated for the elementary school will be spent to fully design the facility and prepare the pad for the building during the high school construction process. Because $34 million from the bond was originally earmarked for the 17th elementary school, delaying that project allows the district to shift the balance to help cover the increased costs of the new high school.
Despite shifting the remaining $19 million from the elementary project to the high school project, the district will still require an additional $43.9 million in funding to complete the high school. This need will be presented to the Levy Development Committee along with other information for consideration as part of a proposed Capital Levy that may go before the voters in 2022. District officials plan to break ground on the high school in 2022.
Cougar Mountain Middle School Updates
At Cougar Mountain Middle School, construction of the parking garage is complete, and the new middle school building is in its final stages. Site activities at the main entrance, parent loop and track and field areas continue to be delayed from the unexpected settlement of soils on a portion of the site, which required reengineering and reinforcing of a portion of the retaining walls along the west side of the site.
“Before purchasing the site -- due diligence -- including geotechnical work, was done,” Director of Capital Projects Tom Mullins said. “Unfortunately, some significant underground runoff from the mountain was not discovered during that process. After the reengineering efforts and additional review by our city partners, we feel entirely confident that the site is safe and stable.”
The district’s design and construction team worked closely with the City of Issaquah to develop engineering solutions to address these unforeseen conditions. Work on those solutions began in early October, and is projected to be complete in January. Once the retaining walls are finished, the construction team will focus its efforts on remaining utilities, paving, sidewalks and landscaping needed for occupancy. We anticipate that work will be done by mid-February, and that the athletic fields will be complete by midsummer. Total costs at Cougar Mountain are currently running as much as $35 million above original estimates.
In our regular updates about the status of capital projects at School Board meetings, the district has shared concerned about the escalating costs of project. For more information and updates, please visit the Capital Projects website.
What has the 2016 Bond Funded?
Projects currently under construction include:
- Upgrades and updates to Beaver Lake Middle School, which was built more than 20 years ago.
- Cougar Mountain Middle School, which is slated to open in early 2022.
Projects and purchases completed using taxpayer dollars from the 2016 construction bond include:
- Purchase of 70 acres within the Urban Growth Area, which has provided five school sites.
- Construction of Cedar Trails Elementary School, which opened in September 2021.
- Rebuilding of Pine Lake Middle School, which was originally constructed in 1974.
- Critical expansion and modernization of Beaver Lake Middle School and six existing elementary schools: Clark, Discovery, Endeavour, Maple Hills, Sunset and Cougar Ridge Elementary.
- Acquiring the Central Administration Building to relocate administrative offices.
- Implementing safety and security measures such as building secured entry vestibules, installing a key card access system and additional security cameras.
- Renovation of the Holly Street administration building into an early learning center.
Community members with general questions may reach out to the Communications Department at ISDCommunications@issaquah.wednet.edu; or, for specific questions about the projects, contact Capital Projects Director Tom Mullins at email@example.com.