Officials reach agreement on Federal Way Link Extension’s impact to Mark Twain Elementary

Light rail will cut across Mark Twain Elementary school’s playground once it is built in 2024, Sound Transit officials determined last week.

After signing a memorandum of agreement with Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, however, the school district has a Plan B.

In the agreement, Sound Transit, Federal Way Public Schools and King County Metro, have stated the intent for King County Metro to assume property of Mark Twain Elementary, and the school district to take over the Metro-owned Redondo Park and Ride, if the district passes a 2018 bond to rebuild Mark Twain Elementary.

“The memorandum of agreement between the district, King County Metro and Sound Transit demonstrates the effective collaboration that can result when agencies work together for what is best for our scholars and community,” Superintendent Tammy Campbell said. “Our work now begins to continue this effort to address the possibility of the land swap to relocate Mark Twain Elementary, pending a voter-approved bond and mitigation with Sound Transit. We will continue to engage our community in this effort.”

Construction on the Federal Way Link Extension is expected to begin in 2019.

The 7.8-mile light rail will begin at SeaTac’s Angle Lake station, cross State Route 99, continue along State Route 509 to Interstate 5 and will travel south, curving west to South 317th Street and down to South 320th Street. Stations will be to the west of 30th Avenue South near Highline College, at Star Lake Park and Ride at South 272nd Street in Kent, and the Federal Way Transit Center, it’s last stop. The route alignment was also chosen by Sound Transit last week after months of public feedback on a final environmental impact statement that was released in November.

“Identifying a route gives us a clear path forward for bringing light rail to Federal Way by 2024,” Sound Transit Board member and King County Councilmember Peter von Reichbauer said in an announcement. “In just a few years’ time, the people of South King County will enjoy the convenience of light rail that thousands of other regional commuters already enjoy.”

Rogoff said the memorandum of agreement is a “potential win/win/win” for everyone involved.

“Mark Twain will gain a better location for expansion; Sound Transit will avoid $30 million in additional cost to the taxpayer; and Federal Way residents will benefit from enhanced transit oriented development,” Rogoff said in an announcement. “Extraordinary creativity and collaboration between the Federal Way Public Schools district, King County Metro and Sound Transit led to a very positive solution.”

Campbell said, while she knew the light rail route ran on Mark Twain’s property, she first learned Sound Transit intended to run the segment above ground in November.

She immediately met with Sound Transit and learned while officials had explored running the light rail underground, they found groundwater that would have cost an additional $30 million to to take care of, on top of the initial costs to build the trench.

To Campbell, cutting off nearly a third of an elementary school’s playground field wasn’t an option for the district.

“This would [have been] the first elementary school in the state that would have light rail running across the playground,” Campbell said. “They’re doing stuff on campuses because they’ll tell you, ‘We’re on the University of Washington’s campus,’ but you’re not on the campus with 5-year-olds and first-graders, which is why we say schools and trains don’t mix.”

As the plan stands now, Sound Transit will build a 20-foot wall around the route in that area to mitigate the noise. The wall, however, would take up more land with a setback, Campbell added. In addition, with eight trains running each hour, vibrations and distractions are also a concern.

“That’s a lot of traffic, and when we rebuild Mark Twain, which we were probably going to do anyway, we’ll go up,” Campbell said. “The higher you go up now, the more they’ll be able to see that whizzing by. That just permanently changes the learning environment.”

Talk of acquiring new land comes at a time when the district needs more property because of crowding issues. At this time, the superintendent said the district has 1,000 more elementary students than capacity.

“We have to have a facilities plan going forward so that, no matter what, even if the train weren’t there, this school is a school that’s going to have to be modernized,” Campbell said. “This would have been something that we would have been talking about in terms of modernizing schools because it is one of our schools that is the most packed out of all of them.”

The Redondo Park and Ride is a flat property, about the same size as Mark Twain’s, and is in the Mark Twain boundary. Metro is looking to surplus the property since it’s being used at about 10 percent, Campbell said.

Sound Transit will next request a record of decision from the Federal Transit Administration and then hire a design-build contractor before construction begins in two years.

Sound Transit officials say by the time light rail begins serving Federal Way in 2024, more than 60 miles of light rail will serve Northgate and Lynnwood; Mercer Island, Bellevue and downtown Redmond; and Tacoma Link to Hilltop. Because of the recent passage of Sound Transit 3, a $54 billion tax and fee package, Sound Transit estimates light rail is expected to carry more than 80 million riders annually by 2030.

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