Due to overcrowding at Wildwood Elementary, staff has been forced to turn storage space into makeshift rooms for ELL programs and other instruction. JEROD YOUNG, the Mirror

$450 million bond will fix Federal Way’s deteriorating schools

  • Friday, September 29, 2017 1:30am
  • News

At Olympic View Elementary School, room 23 has taken on its own reputation.

At 10 a.m. on a Monday, it is empty. Students have yet to tip-toe their way on the fragile walkway in order to get to their seats. They must be careful when walking through room 23; one wrong step could cause colossal damage.

The room is well known because in the dead center of the instruction area, there is a large dip in the floor where the room is sinking into the ground. It is not initially noticeable by the human eye, but the cart that rolled from the left side of the room into the center of the dip confirmed it.

It is just one of a massive laundry list of alarming problems affecting eight Federal Way schools across the district’s 35-mile radius around the city. It is why the school district is desperately seeking the community’s support for its $450 million bond it will present on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The bond will aim to address aging, deteriorating facilities, overcrowding at elementary schools like room 23 at Olympic View, and enhanced safety and security districtwide.

“The purpose of the bond is to modernize and rebuild some of our most aging facilities,” Deputy Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer said, “in order to provide the highest quality teaching environment for our students.”

The bond takes aim specifically at Thomas Jefferson High School, Totem and Illahee Middle Schools, Olympic View, Mirror Lake, Star Lake, Lake Grove and Wildwood Elementary Schools.

The eight schools were built between 1956 and 1971. In total, the district has 19 buildings that are 40 years old or older.

“Without voter support we would have to put more of our operational money that we would normally put into construction into maintenance,” Federal Way Public Schools Chief Finance and Operations Officer Sally McLean said. “And you just don’t want to have to be there.”

Thomas Jefferson High School is a prime example.

The room 23 at Olympic View is room K2 at Jefferson.

While K2 is not sinking, walking along the room’s interior is like walking on superballs covered in tile. Mushy bumps span the length of the classroom.

High school maintenance staff have been forced to regularly replace the 160 tiles throughout the room. If that is not enough, the high school has almost no wheelchair access, and staff have made more than 250 concrete patches that hide the root damage caused to walkways.

The 2017 bond proposal aims to completely rebuild Jefferson, while Olympic View will be expanded and rebuilt. When Olympic View is rebuilt, it will be a K-8 campus.

Security enhancements are also needed, including security cameras and addressing outdated buildings with multiple entry points.

“Eight buildings will be re-modernized or rebuilt,” Pfeiffer said. “The others will also benefit. Things that have been ailing them will still get the attention they deserve in order to maintain a high quality for our students.”

Of the eight schools that need attention, the argument can be made that Wildwood Elementary School needs it most.

Simply put, Wildwood is well beyond its capacity for a beneficial learning environment.

In 1967, Wildwood Elementary was built to accommodate a maximum of 300 students.

When the 2017-18 school year began earlier this month, the district counted approximately 600 students enrolled at Wildwood.

Enrollment has gotten so big, staff has been forced to put hooks on the outside of classrooms to accommodate backpacks and jackets because rooms are not big enough.

Wildwood’s interior is lined with piles of boxes with school reading materials and resources because there is nowhere else to store them. There is no space for teachers to provide reading or math intervention, so they must do it in the school hallways.

Small storage closets have been converted into English language learner program rooms that are no bigger than a 10-by-10 space. And staff has been forced to put vital materials in spaces with boilers or outside near a loading dock.

“Over-crowding is a problem,” Pfeiffer said. “There’s no better place than Wildwood Elementary to see that. This bond will address that.”

District officials say the bond is a tough ask of the Federal Way community, but the city’s population has exploded to about 98,000 people, and many schools in their current state just cannot handle the increase.

Federal Way Public Schools has determined it cannot wait any longer. If it is going to change the current reputation of its schools, such as room 23, it is going to need help.

“By waiting — prudently,” McLean said. “While still maintaining buildings, we’re able to put this package in front of our taxpayers without increasing the total tax collections.”

In addition to a sinking floor, “Room 23” at Olympic View struggles with roofing issues from water damage and asbestos. JEROD YOUNG, the Mirror

The locker rooms and gym at Illahee Middle School is riddled with evident water damage, which has caused locker room lighting to be almost nonexistent. JEROD YOUNG, the Mirror

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