Federal Way Public Schools delays schools’ opening

FWPS purchases former DeVry University building for $13M to temporarily house students.

In response to “aggressive” schedule challenges, Federal Way Public Schools has revised its opening schedules for Star Lake Elementary and Totem Middle Schools, and unveiled temporary student housing plans for the recently purchased DeVry University building in Federal Way.

The original proposal for occupying Totem and Star Lake had been set for fall 2021, but now the district has reset these timelines, publicized at the most recent Totem and Star Lake bond project update meeting on April 3.

Totem is now set to open winter 2021, with Star Lake to follow in fall 2022. The two schools are currently located on the same piece of property approximately 500 feet apart; designs for the new school projects show two separate schools with partially combined spaces on one site.

“Making these schedule changes allows us to make the best use of our bond dollars, with more going directly to the schools, rather than escalation or overtime costs,” said Whitney Chiang, the district’s director of multimedia communications, in an email.

Approved by voters in November 2017, a school construction bond of $450 million was allocated to the district to rebuild eight schools, including Thomas Jefferson High School, Totem and Illahee middle schools, and Olympic View, Lake Grove, Mirror Lake, Star Lake and Wildwood elementary schools, as well as improvements for Memorial Stadium.

The district is amid the design phases for six of those schools, including Totem and Star Lake.

BN Builders, Inc, the general contractor/construction management firm for this construction project, reviewed the district’s most recent schedule early in the process, which showed both schools would be complete in fall 2021, and the firm indicated it was “aggressive,” according to the district.

While the district could meet the schedule, it would require approximately $1.5 million in overtime costs and include a high risk of delayed occupancy, the district told attendees at the April 3 meeting.

The current adjusted schedule allows both Totem and Star Lake Elementary to be completed less than a year later, while the construction begins at the same time as the previous schedule.

FWPS unveiled their construction updates prior to announcing the purchase of the former DeVry University building in Federal Way (3600 S. 344th St.) to the Star Lake and Totem meeting attendees. The district purchased the building for $13 million in February, and funded the facility by allocating money generated from the School Construction Assistance Program, Chiang said.

“The purchase of this building was the most cost-effective option to fill this short-term temporary need, and also provide long-term permanent additional capacity,” she said.

The district will retrofit the DeVry building to temporarily house Wildwood and Lake Grove students next school year, beginning fall 2019, according to the district.

Star Lake Elementary students will then be relocated to the former DeVry building from spring 2021 to fall 2022.

Totem students will remain in their existing building while the new building is constructed.

To accommodate student transportation to the temporary Devry site located approximately six miles south of Star Lake’s current building, the district’s transportation department will create bus routes and bus stops based on current enrollment, Chiang said.

Transportation costs are funded by the state fund and based on the number of students riding the bus, the district said.

“We are in the process of gathering estimates at this time, and it would be difficult to provide a definitive number until we know what the enrollment and ridership numbers will be,” the district told the Mirror.

The district has various options for long-term use of the former DeVry facility, including the creation of a regional early learning center that can house a combination of programs intended to reduce K-3 class size across the district, Chiang continued.

The district will pay for the approximately $18 million in renovations to the facility with a K-3 class size reduction grant.

According to the district, discussion of temporary housing began in early 2018. Amid the early design phase for Mirror Lake, Lake Grove, and Wildwood Elementary, the district learned there was a need to provide temporary housing for two of the three schools, Chiang said. The district explored various options, including portable villages, leasing buildings from another district, moving scholars to other elementary schools, and purchasing a building in Federal Way.

“Purchasing a building was the best option and allowed us to keep bond dollars in the new schools,” she noted. “It also provided for long-term permanent additional capacity to address overcrowding in elementary schools.”

FWPS said they are working collaboratively with the city on tenant improvement permitting processes.

The city issued the district a demolition permit in February, which allows the contractor to begin removing existing interior walls and ceilings of the building; the district applied for land use and building permits in March. The final step is for the city to issue the district an occupancy permit.

SEPA updates

The district also released an updated SEPA checklist for the Totem and Star Lake projects after community members highlighted numerous errors and inaccuracies in the former report issued on Feb. 18, the district said at the bond update meeting on April 3.

In a March 11 press release from the district regarding the revised SEPA checklist, the district states: “During this comment period, several errors and omissions in the SEPA checklist were brought to our attention. An outside company created and prepared the report.”

The district obtains information from multiple sources and works with a consultant specializing in SEPA preparation to assemble the report, Chiang said.

“It is usual and customary to work with consultants to provide outside expertise and support,” she stated.

“The same team of consultants was used in preparation of the Mirror Lake, Lake Grove, and Wildwood Elementary Schools, and Thomas Jefferson High School SEPA reports … We also reviewed and strengthened our process to enhance accuracy and quality in our products, so this would not happen again.”

The SEPA checklist comment period ends April 15.


For more information on Totem Middle School, Star Lake Elementary School, or other bond projects within the FWPS district, visit fwps.org/bond.

FWPS purchased the DeVry building in Federal Way to temporarily house elementary school students while new school bond projects of new schools are completed. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

FWPS purchased the DeVry building in Federal Way to temporarily house elementary school students while new school bond projects of new schools are completed. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Lake Grove and Wildwood elementary school students will be temporarily housed in the DeVry building for the 2019-2020 school year. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo

Lake Grove and Wildwood elementary school students will be temporarily housed in the DeVry building for the 2019-2020 school year. Olivia Sullivan/staff photo