News

$17 million in limbo for middle school

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

When Federal Way voters passed an $83 million school bond nearly four years ago, the district’s enrollment was projected to increase by 400 to 500 students each year.

Since that time, growth in the district has slowed. According to enrollment records released in December 2002, Federal Way Public Schools’ total enrollment this year is 194 students less than the 22,000 students attending school when the bond was passed in 1999.

Officials say the trend is not likely to change any time soon. Enrollment is expected to decline by an additional 400 to 500 students next year, said Sally McLean, chief financial officer for the school district.

With enrollment lagging, building a new middle school would seem to be the district’s last priority. Not including the construction of Todd Beamer High School, scheduled to open this fall, the district maintains 35 schools within its 35-square-mile boundary.

But the bond passed by voters in 1999 includes $17 million for the construction of a new middle school. The school’s fate, and the $17 million price tag, will be left in the hands of the School Board.

Faced with a state budget crunch that could impact Federal Way schools by as much as $8 million and the challenges involved in transitioning from a junior high to a middle school system, a decision on the new middle school has been tabled indefinitely.

“With everything that is going on right now, I think they have enough on their plates already,” said district spokeswoman Deb Stenberg.

For now, district officials are content to show off what has already been accomplished. During a Jan. 14 bus ride, superintendent Tom Murphy accompanied participants on a tour of the construction sites funded by the 1999 bond.

The highest-profile construction, the building of the new $44 million Beamer High, accounted for more than half of the bond funds. The remainder was split among the proposed $17 million middle school, replacing Truman High School ($6 million), increasing capacity ($9 million) and general school improvements ($7 million).

The only thing that will remain the same about Truman after the completion of its “re-creation” this month is the alternative school’s location. With the award of a Gates Scholar Grant in 2000, combined with $6 million in bond funds, the school has been revamped to provide a learning experience that emphasizes real-world business practices, including team activities and job shadowing.

The new Truman Learning Center comprises two semi-independent schools, each numbering 102 students, housed in a single 23,000-square-foot building.

The construction of four general-purpose classrooms and two science rooms at Thomas Jefferson High School was completed last August.

Also finished in August 2002 were the construction of four new classrooms, additional cafeteria space and a new entrance to Federal Way High School, and four classrooms and two science rooms at Decatur High School.

Jefferson, Federal Way and Decatur also each received a share of $600,000 to improve athletic fields.

High schools weren’t the only ones to benefit from the bond funds. Additional classroom space, library and playground enhancements, and improvements to boost parking-lot safety made their way into the district’s elementary schools.

Improving technology was a key focus of the $7 million dedicated to school improvements. Each of the district’s 35 schools received two computers and a printer for their offices, between six and 10 dedicated workstations for its libraries, and computer network upgrades to support more users.

Music programs and emergency communications systems were also among the programs targeted for enhancements.

Staff writer Jody Allard: 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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