School district moves ahead with Norman Center property

The Federal Way School Board received no community input on funding options for the Norman Center last week.

The board voted to approve purchasing the center for $2.1 million back in November, without any public hearing on the matter. The YMCA was keen to sell the property quickly in order to use the sale as part of a capital campaign and qualify for matching grants.

Instead, at the last school board meeting, the district opted to hold a public hearing on the financing options for the property. No one chose to speak at the meeting, either in favor or against or with any suggestions for alternative funding.

Paying for it

The property, located at 33250 21st Ave. SW, is 9.7 acres and contains two structures: One 9,094-square-foot building that was built in 1996, and a 16,650-square-foot covered recreation building.

The district has two options to fund the purchase. One option is existing capital projects funds, which cannot be used for instructional programs.

Or the district could use the state's LOCAL program, a lease/purchase program authorized in 1989. The program provides financing for property by state agencies through the use of financing contracts, including installment payments, lease/purchase agreements or any other interest-bearing contract used to finance property. Projects must be submitted to and approved by the Legislature.

The most likely route is for the district to use the LOCAL program. The money in the capital funds, which is leftover from the 1999 construction bond, is $2.3 million. However, at the last school board meeting, staff recommended that money ($2 million) go toward paying for the new phone system the district will be purchasing. The remaining funds would go toward building improvements.

If the district were to go the route of the LOCAL program, it would likely mean the district would be paying $200,000 to $225,000 a year for 10 years, said Sally McLean, chief financial officer. The money would come from impact fees from Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and King County, the areas which the district serves.

The land was originally donated to the YMCA by Weyerhaeuser in 1982. It is believed that there were no requirements that the land stay in the YMCA's hands.

Plans for the property

The district already has several uses lined up for the Norman Center, including relocating its Employment and Transition Program for students with disabilities. The program is currently housed at Federal Way High School, but has outgrown that space.

Additionally, the district hopes to expand the AmeriCorps after-school program as well as the ECEAP (Early Childhood Education and Assistance) programs. The district also hopes to hold summer camps there as well as rent out the covered recreation area, which is a full-size soccer field.

The ECEAP program could offer an additional 80 slots with the extra housing at the Norman Center, which was originally designed as a daycare center.

The YMCA has expressed interest in holding summer camps at the Norman Center.

Not much would have to be done to the property, McLean said. The property would need to be fenced off, and some sound walls might be added, but there would be no cost to move in.

The board is expected to make a decision on funding for both the projects shortly.

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