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Providence Heights

The District has acquired 40 acres of property near Providence Point, following an exhaustive search for school sites within the Urban Growth Boundary as required by the Countywide Planning Policies—as well as a lengthy eminent domain process. The land was acquired for the purpose of building a fourth comprehensive high school and an elementary school, both approved by voters in the 2016 school bond election. The zoning of this property will determine whether or not the District may move forward with the planning for those schools.

The City of Issaquah’s Planning Policy Commission recommended during its October 24, 2019 meeting that the City adopt zoning that would prohibit the District from building our desperately needed fourth high school on this site and render a significant portion of the site unusable for any purpose. 

The Issaquah School Board and Administration have sent the following letters to City officials asking for their consideration in this important matter and explaining the District's position on the topic.

Letter from Superintendent Ron Thiele to Issaquah City Council

Dear Members of the City Council:

The Issaquah School District submits these comments regarding the City’s proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map (the “CF Redesignations and Rezones”) as a supplement to written comments submitted to you, by our Board of Directors and to the Planning Policy Commission on October 9, 2019 by the District’s legal counsel. As should be clear from our collective comments, we need the Council’s support, consistent with the City’s existing regulatory framework, in order to fulfill our shared obligation to plan for needed schools.

The City and the District have worked together for several years to anticipate and plan, consistent with the directives in the Countywide Planning Policies and the City’s Comprehensive Plan, for the new schools needed in our community. We appreciate that the City’s Comprehensive Plan and Municipal Code policies establish and direct publicly owned properties like ours to a separate zoning category, the CF zone. As you know, the City’s work in 2017 and 2018 resulted in amendments to City land use regulations to facilitate development of schools under the Community Facilities – Facilities zoning standards. The process included considerable public review and lengthy deliberation and important conversation regarding the challenges of finding urban land for schools. The resulting amendments reflect a compromise allowing construction of public schools efficiently throughout the City while providing standards to ensure compatibility with neighboring properties. We now need to move forward within your adopted framework.

Our work to find school sites has been extensive and exhausting. As you know, King County policy prohibits schools outside of the urban growth boundary (see attached map of the District with Urban Growth Area shaded). There is simply very little developable land within the urban area and even less contiguous developable land in areas where our students live. We searched for more than six years for school sites, working with a professional broker, and have reviewed over 700 acres of potential sites within the urban area of our District. We engaged in eminent domain, competed with developers, and approached school siting in a creative manner (including using smaller footprints), consistent with the City’s adopted policies, to secure properties for the four new schools approved by our voters in the 2016 Bond. We do not have other properties that we can look to as a back-up plan for our community’s schools. At the same time, we feel that the acquired school sites will best serve our community by allowing us to plan for schools in the areas of the District where they are needed most.

Our community has no other option but to build a new high school. I need to reiterate; we have no option beyond the Plateau Campus Property to use for a high school. We are running out of room in our existing spaces, have limited options for adding capacity at our existing high schools, and yet continue to grow in student population. If we do not provide new capacity at the 9-12 level by 2025, we will have more than 1,000 high school students without seats in our schools. This will be an infrastructure failure and will compromise our students’ educational experience. We collectively need to work together to avoid this result.

Importantly, we have no intent to overlook the concerns of our neighbors in this process. As Superintendent, I reached out in 2016 to the Providence Point community when the District first started considering the former Plateau Campus property to site a future new high school and a new elementary school. At that time, the property was under contract with a private developer for a plat to develop nearly 140 new single family homes. We met with residents on at least three different occasions as early outreach. In those conversations, residents seemed receptive to the concept of both schools.

In normal situations, these conversations would have continued uninterrupted as we moved forward with site acquisition and project planning. However, in this case, we were delayed by nearly three years of litigation, only recently resolved, in which we had no certainty with regard to our planning at the site. However, as with any new school project, we are committed to working with our neighbors on project planning. Our schools are an asset to the community and our neighbors are an asset to our schools.

In summary, we need the City’s support to designate our school sites as Community Facilities – Facilities so that we can move forward with planning and building our schools as intended by the City’s existing regulatory directives. As the District’s top administrator, I do need to stress our Board’s rejection of the Planning Policy Commission’s recommendation to designate one of our school parcels as open space and render unusable six acres of otherwise developable public school land. The District objects unequivocally to this unsolicited attempt to downzone public school property and requests that the City do the same. We specifically request that no action be taken at all on this parcel (or any other school district parcel) if the City Council chooses not to rezone the parcel site as Community Facilities – Facilities.

We appreciate your consideration of our comments and your shared interest in the siting of the schools needed to serve our community’s residents. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Ron Thiele
Superintendent

Letter from Board President Harlan Gallinger to Issaquah City Council

Dear Members of the City Council:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Issaquah School District, please accept these comments regarding the proposed amendment to the City of Issaquah Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Map for newly acquired public properties (the “CF Redesignations and Rezones”). The District recently acquired the future school sites included within the proposal for school facilities approved by our voters in the 2016 Bond. These sites include one approximately 40 acre site for future high school and elementary school facilities (the “Plateau Campus School Site”) and one approximately nine acre site for a future middle school (the “Talus School Site”). We need the City Council’s approval of the CF Redesignations and Rezones for these public school properties so that we can move forward with project planning for the schools approved overwhelmingly by more than 70% of our shared constituents and needed to serve students already in our schools. 

While there are several reasons that we believe the City Council should rezone the properties Community Facilities-Facilities so that each of our proposed schools can be built, we want to share our top three. First, we have very overcrowded comprehensive high schools in Issaquah and Sammamish that were built for about 1,800 students each and have 2,400 students at Issaquah High School and 2,200 students at Skyline High School. Second, we have finite financial resources with our 2016 voter-approved bond and delay in this rezoning request for the 2019 Comprehensive Plan would cost our taxpayers an additional $8 million per year, and could make it impossible for our district to build our schools at the budgets we have promised our voters. Finally, we have exhausted our search for buildable property within the Urban Growth Boundary for our 4th comprehensive high school. It is not an overstatement for us to say that we have no other option for a high school site. There is simply not any other developable site available for this academic program even with utilization of the City’s compact school regulations. We’ve worked tirelessly for years to locate this school site and, due to delays related to litigation in the eminent domain process, are at a critical juncture in terms of student planning needs and project cost escalation. 

As elected officials, we appreciate our partnership with the City Council as we work together to address school siting needs. As a school district, we have worked hard to keep up with the City’s growth and know that you desire for us to provide the schools needed to serve our citizens. Our District has relied on the City’s Comprehensive Plan policies and code provisions for guidance as we’ve searched over the last several years for land for new schools. It has been a difficult search given the existing regulatory constraints on school siting, the scarcity of urban land, and development limitations of many parcels. However, we feel fortunate to have secured future school sites in areas where schools are most needed. In particular, the Plateau Campus School Site, located squarely between Issaquah High School and Skyline High School, will allow us to plan a new high school to relieve critical capacity constraints at Issaquah and Skyline. 

We also want to urge your timely consideration of the CF Redesignations and Rezones. We need to plan now for schools at both the Plateau Campus School Site and the Talus School Site. Our students deserve quality schools with adequate space and program capacity. Ongoing delays also result in unnecessary costs to our taxpayers as construction costs escalate each month. 

On a related matter, we are absolutely opposed to the City Planning Policy Commission’s recommendation, not discussed with or acceptable to the District as the property owner, to downzone one of the Plateau Campus School Site parcels and make it entirely unusable for most purposes, including school siting. This unilateral action would be a mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and should in no case be considered by the City Council. If the City Council were to consider adopting that recommendation for that parcel (or any District owned parcel), the Board requests that the City Council refrain from taking any action on the subject parcel. We, like you, have a fiduciary obligation to our shared taxpayers that must be prioritized. 

We know and appreciate that neighbors of any future school site will have concerns about a new school project. We want to work with any neighborhood to address their concerns through a project planning process and to build a facility that enhances the neighborhood. Our three existing comprehensive high schools and our choice high school all have residential neighbors. In planning for any of our school projects, we are thoughtful to consider how our schools integrate into the surrounding neighborhoods. We look forward to and commit to doing the same with the schools anticipated for both the Plateau Campus School Site and the Talus School Site. In fact, our District Administration has already and continues to reach out to the Providence Point community to schedule meetings to discuss potential future development.

Again, our Board values the District’s partnership with the City and appreciates the opportunity to partner with you to provide the quality schools needed to serve our shared constituents. We look forward to further conversations with you on this matter. Please reach out to myself or other Board members to discuss further. 

Sincerely,
Dr. Harlan Gallinger
Board President

 

Background information

KC Parcel Viewer View - City Church Providence Heights PropertyWith a board resolution in July 2016, the Issaquah School District began preliminary proceedings to exercise eminent domain to acquire the Providence Heights College property, which is currently owned by the City Church of Kirkland. The nearly 40-acre property, located by the northern border of the City of Issaquah nearby the Sammamish Plateau, is unique in its prime location to alleviate crowding at both Skyline and Issaquah High. It is also a rare piece of single-owner property spacious enough for both a new comprehensive high school as well as a new co-located elementary. 

Providence Heights College was built by the Sisters of Providence in 1961. The City Church intended to demolish the buildings when it bought the campus in 2008. Initially, the City made the demolition permit contingent upon City Church safely removing the chapel’s historic stained-glass windows, created by renowned French artist Gabriel Loire, and returning them to the Sisters of Providence for preservation. Even so, a group of community members made a wider appeal to the City of Issaquah to preserve the property as a historical landmark. In July 2017, the City of Issaquah Landmark Commission approved the entire campus as a historic landmark, including the chapel, surrounding buildings, landscaping/open space, and forested areas. In September 2017, an Issaquah hearing examiner ruled in favor of the appeal of the demolition permit and ordered the city to conduct a new review of the property. 

That review resulted in the historic landmark status being removed, and the church has been demolished. The District now has possession and use of the land. 

*Parcel image courtesy of King County Parcel Viewer 2.


What now?

We are in a holding pattern, which is a challenge. The Providence Heights property is our current best option for a new high school with the added bonus of space for a new elementary. To find another suitably large and well-situated site for a high school would be very difficult. If we are unable to locate property for the new school near the students it will serve, the alternative will be bussing those students longer distances. We want to avoid that option, but our options are becoming truly limited.