The May fire that destroyed nine businesses in a downtown strip mall was one of Federal Way’s top stories in 2017. Mirror file photo/courtesy Shelley Pauls

The May fire that destroyed nine businesses in a downtown strip mall was one of Federal Way’s top stories in 2017. Mirror file photo/courtesy Shelley Pauls

School bond, PAEC opening among Federal Way’s top 5 stories of 2017

Bond passage means better facilities in school district, city hopes PAEC spurs economic development.

Among the many significant events that took place in Federal Way in 2017, a few stood out as the biggest, whether in regard to the long-term impact in the community or the severity of the event. Here are the Mirror’s top 5:

1. Voters approve $450 million school facilities bond

The top story in Federal Way for 2017 was the passage of the $450 million school facilities bond, which will fund renovating or rebuilding aging, deteriorating facilities and address overcrowding at elementary schools and safety issues across the district at Thomas Jefferson High School, Totem and Illahee middle schools, and 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.

Memorial Stadium is also set to receive some upgrades. With the successful passage of the bond, all state School Construction Assistance Program funds will address significant maintenance needs, such as roofs and boilers, security enhancements and the relocation of Mark Twain Elementary.

Passage was never a certainty, however. Not only did the school district have to receive a 60 percent plus one vote approval, voter turnout had to exceed 40 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last general election in the district, or 21,301 votes. On election night, Nov. 7, while more voters were in favor of the school facilities bond than opposed, the district had not achieved a super-majority or the vote threshold for validation.

“This is going to be a protracted discovery of where we are,” Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell told bond supporters and volunteers at a gathering.

District staff and bond supporters breathed more easily, however, the next week when it not only achieved a super-majority, but it also met the voter turnout requirements.

“The communities of Federal Way, Des Moines, Kent, Auburn and unincorporated King County have demonstrated their support of a bond which rebuilds, modernizes and expands some of our aging and overcrowded schools,” Campbell said in a press release celebrating the news. “Our district has a strategic plan with big, bold goals, metrics and strategies, and the successful passage of this bond positions us to continue building upon our successes. I want to thank each and every person for their support.”

According to final results certified by King County Elections, 14,229 voters, or 61.99 percent, supported the bond measure, while 8,726, or 38.01 percent, were opposed.

According to a Nov. 21 story in the Mirror, when construction does begin, the school district will start with the four elementary schools identified for improvements in the bond, as well as Thomas Jefferson High School, which is the largest and most expensive of all the construction projects at approximately 210,000 square feet and $149.5 million.

Each elementary school project will be approximately 60,000 square feet and have a price tag of approximately $27.5 million.

Later, the Olympic View K-8, Totem and Illahee middle schools and Memorial Stadium projects will take place, along with the construction of Mark Twain Elementary at a new site and other miscellaneous safety and infrastructure improvements at all schools once School Construction Assistance Program funds become available from the state. Anticipated cost for the Olympic View 96,000-square-foot project is $44 million, while the middle schools, with 110,000 square feet of construction planned, are anticipated to cost $52 million each.

The Memorial Stadium project is expected to cost $45 million. The district is anticipating $35 million from state SCAP funds to build Mark Twain elementary, along with another $16.5 million to make improvements at the other FWPS schools.

While all the projects included in the $450 million construction bond are important, completing construction at Thomas Jefferson High School early on is important for the school district to stay within budget because inflation rates for materials will only go up, and the district could take the biggest hit for that school, according to the story.

2. DaVita announces expansion of corporate offices in Federal Way

In August, kidney dialysis company DaVita announced it would move the last of its 500 employees from Tacoma to Federal Way.

The Fortune 500 company based in Denver, plans to build an approximately 150,000- to 200,000-square-foot corporate office building next to its current location, 32275 32nd Ave. S. The new DaVita building will be situated on an almost 3-acre parcel currently owned by Industrial Realty Group, which now owns the former Weyerhaeuser campus. DaVita also purchased an additional 3 acres from IRG for future plans.

In 2013, DaVita brought some of its business offices to an approximately 125,000-square-foot remodeled building on the former Weyerhaeuser campus. DaVita also has a dialysis center on South 348th Street.

The expansion will benefit the city with 500 additional people working in the city and patronizing its shops and restaurants, Mayor Jim Ferrell said in August. The new building will add to the city’s tax base and could also possibly draw other companies to Federal Way, Ferrell added.

3. Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center opens

The 716-seat Federal Way Performing Arts and Event Center, 31510 Pete von Reichbauer Way S., opened this summer.

Officials hosted a ribbon cutting on Aug. 19, and the PAEC’s first big event was “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” on Sept. 9.

In addition to the ribbon cutting, the opening day at the PAEC featured guided tours and entertainment from local performers, including PAEC resident artists organizations – the Federal Way Symphony, Harmony Kings, Federal Way Chorale, Jet Cities Chorus, the Federal Way Youth Symphony and the Tacoma City Ballet.

Through various grants and federal sources, the city has paid approximately $24 million, including $1 million raised by the Federal Way Coalition of the Performing Arts, on the $33 million center.

City officials are requesting $1 million from the state’s capital budget for kitchen upgrades at the facility, which would be used by the Native American Culinary Institute in partnership with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.

The PAEC is one of five pieces that will make up Federal Way’s Town Center once complete. The other parts are Town Square Park, a hotel, development of the former Target property and the Transit Center. The city plans to build a grand staircase to connect Town Square Park and the PAEC.

4. Nine businesses destroyed in strip mall fire

A fire in late May displaced nine businesses in the Federal Way Center Plaza.

The May 21 blaze gutted a 22,000 square-foot-building, 2020 S. 320th St., which housed a Subway, Total Vape, Mi Tiendita Latina II, Al’s Music & Games, 2NE Pho, Ace Dry Cleaners, Emerald City Smoothie, a smoke shop and MOA Hair Studio.

Investigators determined the fire started in the 2NE Pho restaurant, either in the kitchen or the attic above, but were unable to pinpoint the cause.

The building and its contents were valued at $5 million.

South King Fire & Rescue received a 911 call at 4:25 a.m. the day of the fire and were on scene within five minutes.

Firefighters battled the blaze throughout the morning and monitored the site into the afternoon. They used an estimated 1 million gallons of water to put out the fire.

The building did not have a fire alarm or sprinklers.

5. Council quashes safe injection sites for heroin addicts within city

Rounding out the top 5 stories in 2017 for Federal Way was the unanimous vote by the Federal Way City Council opposing any safe-injection sites in and bordering the city. After rumors that Federal Way was being considered as a site for a safe-injection facility, where heroin would be administered to addicts by professionals, the idea kicked off a political and community-wide firestorm.

The City Council, however, quashed that possibility at its Aug. 8 meeting with a resolution opposing such sites in the city.

The resolution also requested county officials not place a safe injection facility in unincorporated King County within Federal Way’s urban growth area.

The matter came to a head when Manka Dinghra, Washington State Senate candidate in the 45th Legislative District, posted that Federal Way was being considered for a safe injection site in an online question-and-answer forum at Reddit.com.

While that statement turned out to be false, the matter still made its way on the council agenda.

“I just think these are an incredibly bad policy idea,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said prior to the council meeting, adding he does not believe they are legal. “I just think it sends the wrong message, and I am confident an overwhelming majority of people in Federal Way feel the same way.”

Federal Way was one of many cities in King County to pass such a vote, with Renton, Bellevue, Kent, Burien, Auburn and others also passing such measures.

The votes, however, was somewhat of a tempest in a teapot because the King County Council had previously passed an ordinance stating no money from its Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Fund could be used to open a safe injection site in a selected location unless that city’s elected governing body first voted to approve it.

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