Time to rebuild Federal Way High School? | Part 1 of special report

Federal Way High School’s remodeling in 2003 added a larger cafeteria and upgraded exterior for $2.4 million.  - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Federal Way High School’s remodeling in 2003 added a larger cafeteria and upgraded exterior for $2.4 million.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

Federal Way High School is older than most of the city’s residents. It’s the oldest school in the district, and the flagship name-bearing high school. It’s also the most rundown school in the district.

Federal Way High School has been on the construction bond ballot, talked about at school board meetings and labeled a priority by board president Tony Moore in the past.

The question remains: Why hasn’t Federal Way High School been replaced?

The answer includes a history of failed bond measures, the inherent cost of building a high school, and a districtwide philosophy change that pushed the school past many of its contemporaries without any major renovation or rebuild.

FWHS history

The school was built in 1938. It has undergone additions over the years along with a remodel in 1990, which included a new roof, carpet, paint, an auxiliary gym and a new heating system — more of a modernization than a remodel, Director of Facilities Rod Leland said. Most of that modernization was possible due to state funding.

Most recently, the school underwent a remodel in 2003, which added a larger cafeteria and upgraded the front exterior for $2.4 million. This was done to prepare for the extra freshman class as Federal Way switched from a junior high system to a middle school system.

District officials suspect this remodeling may be one reason why the 2006 bond with FWHS failed.

Plans to remodel

The current school board hasn’t yet spoken up on any plans to bring out a new bond to replace FWHS. However, by this point the school is past another less expensive remodel, Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean said. The only option is a complete rebuild.

The district planned for 10-year cycles of bonds to replace schools as part of a 40-year plan. The 10-year plan would now move a FWHS remodel into the bond stage in 2016 or beyond.

Other schools

Most neighboring schools as old as Federal Way High School, if not older, have already undergone either a major remodel or a complete redo.

Issaquah High School, which was built in 1905, was remodeled in 1962 and again starting in 2008. Currently, the $84 million remodel is about halfway done and should be completed by fall 2011.

Renton High School was founded in 1911, and in 1998, was approved for a remodel by voters.

Puyallup High School, first known as Central School, was founded in 1893. In 1910, the high school was rebuilt. It underwent damage from a fire in 1927. A new larger auditorium was added in 1935. The earthquakes of 1949 and 1964 damaged the building. An auto body building was added in 1969, and the pool was torn down and rebuilt in 1989.

According to the Puyallup School District’s Web site, major remodeling occured at Puyallup High School in 1971, 1984 and 1986, with the last major remodeling in 1993-94.

A failing bond

A rebuilding of Federal Way High School was on the to-do list in the mid-2000s.

It was on the 2006 construction bond measure that failed. That bond, the largest in the district’s history, was for $245 million and would have replaced six schools as well as built a new central kitchen, bus barn and maintenance departments. It would also have paid for the construction of a new stadium across the street from Celebration Park, an environmental education center next to Sequoyah Middle School, and a performing arts center at a rebuilt Federal Way High School.

That bond was estimated to take 25 years to pay off with property taxes. At the time, property owners paid $4.33 per $1,000 of assessed property. If the bond had passed, the rate would have increased by 55 cents.

After the bond failed, community members wrote letters to The Mirror explaining their reasons for voting against it. Many said the district asked for too much and seemed focused on items not directly related to student education — specifically, the performing arts center, the stadium and environmental center. School board members said back then that they had heard similar sentiments in telephone calls, e-mails and conversations around town.

“Christmas shopping list” is what board member Ed Barney said he heard critics call the failed bond.

The bond did garner over 50 percent of the yes vote, but for bonds, the passing margin needs to be 60 percent or higher.

Although some voters felt the request was outlandish, it wasn’t too out of line with what other school districts were doing in 2006.

Lake Washington School District, with nearly 23,500 students, passed a $436 million capital bond with 64.7 percent of voters approving the request. The district will modernize a high school, two middle schools and seven elementary schools. The district will also build a new elementary school and make other capital improvements, according to officials there.

Kent School District passed a $106 million capital bond with 65.7 percent approval to build two elementary schools, renovate a middle school, alter an existing building for an alternative high school and “construct major modernization capital improvements to other schools,” officials said.

Issaquah School District passed a $241.8 million construction bond, with 67.8 percent voting yes. The bond will pay for a new middle school, rebuilding Issaquah High School and the district’s 15th elementary school. The bond also paid for a new performing arts center.

Stay tuned for Part 2

Part 2 of this story is slated to run March 3 in The Mirror. Part 2 will examine past and future construction bonds in the Federal Way School District — and how they relate to the aging Federal Way High School.

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