District seeks feedback for new Federal Way High School

Missing ceiling tiles are common at Federal Way High School, which was originally built in 1929. - Greg Allmain, The Mirror
Missing ceiling tiles are common at Federal Way High School, which was originally built in 1929.
— image credit: Greg Allmain, The Mirror

Federal Way Public Schools will ask voters to approve a $60 million construction levy in February in order to rebuild Federal Way High School (FWHS). The district has begun the first conversations around what the new high school should be like.

Facility services director Rod Leland shared that he and staff, along with a bevy of architects, sat down with FWHS students Oct. 31 and Nov. 2 to hear their desires and vision for the new school. Leland shared what he heard with the school board during its Nov. 22 meeting. He related his own history in building large scale projects.

“In my career, I’ve had a lot of different jobs. For a while, I built boats. For a while, I built houses. For a while, I helped build and design airplanes,” he said. “And here, I help get schools built. And I realized out of all those, is that they all had a vision.”

Establishing a vision for a new FWHS, Leland said, was begun with two eight-hour sessions on the aforementioned dates.

Leland talked with students from the science club, ROTC, cheer team, wrestling team, Pacific Islander dance club, AP art students, the jazz band and other groups. A common theme to almost all of them, Leland said, was a desire for more space, and more flexible spaces, in the new FWHS.

“It got philosophical, and it got specific,” Leland said, referencing his encounter with the wrestling team. FWHS wrestlers shared their thoughts on the importance of wrestling and the discipline it instills in students, and shared how they need more space for their team.

The district’s facilities services director noted that these two days of conversations didn’t result in concrete results, but that they were a starting point for the district as it moves forward on trying to replace the aging school.

“Did we design a Federal Way High School? No. Did we design a floor plan? No. Did we have lots of discussion about what kinds of spaces will be important in a school for the next 50 years? Yes. Did we have an understanding we can carry forward as we go out in the community, as we go deeper in the school, as we search further for answers about what a school building should look like? Yes.”

Levy proposals

Federal Way Public Schools will put two ballot propositions before the voters on Feb. 14, 2012.

The first, known as the Education Programs and Operations (EPO) levy, is a continuation of a current levy Federal Way taxpayers approved three years ago, but is set expire in 2012. The second will be a capital levy to help with the renovation/rebuilding of Federal Way High School.

For the EPO levy, the district seeks a two-year levy that asks for somewhere between $45 million and $53 million. That number depends on the outcome of a special session in the state Legislature, and whether the state cuts Federal Way’s share of $7.7 million in Local Effort Assistance (LEA).

For the capital levy, the district plans to ask for $60 million over six years. This levy’s primary purpose is to rebuild the aging Federal Way High School. The district has already saved $50 million for this project.

“We get to pay as we go, rather than borrowing,” said Sally McLean, assistant superintendent for business services. “Because with a bond, we sell those bonds, but we’re borrowing money. Overall, doing a capital levy will be less costly to taxpayers because there will be no interest payments involved.”

The district anticipates the tax rate for the EPO levy would be $3.50, while the anticipated tax rate for the capital levy would be 85 cents.

The Feb. 14 special election for both levy proposals will cost the school district about $200,000, according to the district. The special election is necessary because teachers must be notified by May 15 if they will have a contract for the next school year, and teachers’ salaries are wrapped up in the EPO levy, according to the district. If Federal Way voters reject either levy, the district can present the proposals to voters on one more ballot in 2012, likely in April. Both proposals need a simple majority (50 percent plus one) to pass.


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