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Sunnycrest Elementary students find temporary school during construction

Sunnycrest Elementary School students will have a new but temporary home next year.

The Federal Way School Board approved a measure that will house Sunnycrest at Manhattan Elementary School in the Highline School District.

Sunnycrest Elementary will begin new school construction after the school year ends. Originally, the plan was to build the new school somewhere on the existing school's site. However, after the $149 million construction bond passed, it was discovered that the area sits on top of a ravine at the edge of the property, which would not be safe during an earthquake.

The district determined that the only suitable place to build was the current school's location on the property.

The district chose to house the students at a "swing school" during construction of the new Sunnycrest school. At one time, Federal Way used Northlake Elementary School for this situation. Northlake was closed as a full-time school in 1981, but was used periodically as a swing school for Sherwood Forest, Rainier View and Mark Twain elementary schools during their remodeling and construction, the last being in 1994. However, Northlake was sold in the mid-1990s.

Since Federal Way no longer has a swing school, they had to look outside of the district. Sunnycrest, which is located outside of the city of Federal Way, is already located near the boundaries with Kent and Highline.

This option is also less expensive for the district, estimated between $500,000 and $600,000.

The district's other option was to keep students on campus and split the construction into two parts, working on one half of the school at a time. Students would have been housed in half the school as well as in portable classrooms. The construction would take almost twice as long (18 months), spread over two years. That plan would have cost an additional $1 million to $1.2 million.

Money and expenses

The money will come out of the capital projects budget, not the bond budget, so it won't have an impact on the school's construction and any potential options the board might choose. Typically, once construction bids come in, the board will decide if there is money for additional features to the school, such as upgraded heating or a better playground.

Sending the Sunnycrest students to the Manhattan school was seen as the better option.

"It's a good solid building," said Rod Leland, director of facilities. "It's safe, it's not in the path of the third runway."

It will cost $114,000 to rent the Manhattan school for the school year. Utilities are also higher because the aging school hasn't had the energy efficiency updates that many of the Federal Way schools have had. The district estimates it will cost $111,000 for utilities.

However, during most of the construction, the district does not pay utilities for Sunnycrest — the contractors do. Last year, Sunnycrest's utilities ran $51,754.

Another cost for going to Manhattan is transportation. The school is about 6 miles from the current location, so the entire school would have to be bused there, which will cost about $200,000. The district has also set aside $100,000 for any additional staffing Sunnycrest might need, whether for security or directing traffic into the parking lot, which doesn't have a separate entrance for buses.

The district did have several meetings to discuss the decision: A PTA meeting, two staff meetings and two parent meetings, which included a translator because Sunnycrest has a high Latino population. A letter survey was also sent to all 307 parents in the school, both in English and Spanish, asking for their input on the decision. Only 13 percent (about 40) of those surveys came back, and of those, 65 percent supported relocating students to the Manhattan school.

"I spoke to several parents," school board member Ed Barney said. "Everyone favored keeping the school together and moving."

About 75 percent of the Sunnycrest staff favored moving to the Manhattan school.

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