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It all starts with a plan, and the Ellensburg School District has several of them.

In an effort to solve the current elementary school population crunch, the district has released a plan to remodel Lincoln and Mount Stuart Elementary Schools, as well as build a new elementary school on 29 acres of property the district is purchasing north of Mount Stuart.

All three projects would go on a $59.5 million bond request to voters this November.

The district received initial designs for the two remodels from NAC Architecture, which also has worked on Morgan Middle School.

Mount Stuart

Mount Stuart Elementary School was originally built to house about 350 students, and now has an enrollment of about 500. The district has added capacity in the past through portable classrooms, but the core areas outside classrooms like the gym, kitchen and cafeteria haven’t kept up with the population increase.

“We have 480 students in portables now (districtwide),” ESD business director Brian Aiken said. “One whole building is going to take all of our overflow kids in portables. To increase capacity, we need to add on to our two schools and add to the core space.”

In addition to increasing capacity and core space, other fixes on the checklist for Mount Stuart include installing a pitched roof that should take care of the school’s constant leaking issues and building a more secure entrance.

Both Mount Stuart and Lincoln have plans for a new HVAC systems. The district had to close its schools because of air quality issues during the Jolly Mountain Fire last September.

Lincoln

While Mount Stuart sits on a 28-acre plot of land, Lincoln has the smallest footprint in the district. The four-acre Lincoln site makes remodeling tough, but administrators were pleased with some of the ideas NAC Architecture brought to them.

“We’re excited about Lincoln,” said Interim Superintendent Mike Nollan. “We know there’s quite an emotional attachment to that building. It’s exciting we found a way to keep that building in our school inventory.”

The proposed design would convert the gym into a cafeteria and construct a new full-sized gym on the south end of the school where the portables sit. To optimize parking, parallel parking on Sampson Street would be converted to diagonal parking, along with the potential for additional spots on the south end of the new gym.

The Lincoln plans also call for added accessibility including an elevator to the second floor and improving multi-level access, like the steps that lead down to the current cafeteria. It would also expand the administrative area to more appropriately house staff.

New school

The district is in the process of purchasing 29 acres north of Mount Stuart for $750,000 which will house a new 500-seat K-5 school as well as room for 50 part-time developmental preschool students. The district explored several different avenues over the last few months, but knew it wanted to focus efforts north of town.

“That’s been the idea all along, north where there’s more growth,” Nollan said.

The land purchase also gives the district increased flexibility when it comes to an agreement with the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. The agreement dates to the 1960s, when the district received a grant for property on the site. As part of the agreement, 18 acres need to be set aside for recreation purposes. The district had an attorney review the documents, and determined it needed to comply with the requirements.

Since an additional school will impact traffic to the area, the district will be responsible for working with the city of Ellensburg on road improvements. At the moment, plans are to extend Helena Avenue to the west and Cora Street to the north.

Time is of the essence

Aiken emphasized the importance of passing the bond in November, which helps the district maximize state matching funds. He also said it’s important to get the ball rolling because although this plan would expand the district by 750 seats, it won’t happen overnight.

“It’s going to be a five to six-year process,” Aiken said.

While the exact timeline hasn’t been established, Aiken said the new school would be constructed first, then depending on which school is renovated first, Mount Stuart or Lincoln students would be moved to the new school during the renovations.

Tax implications

Thanks to the McCleary Supreme Court decision, which requires the state to pay for basic education, Aiken said the district will be able to pull off this plan while decreasing the overall tax rate by 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and keep it there. This is due to the local levy being capped at $1.50 per $1,000 and Ellensburg High School getting paid off in 2021.

In 2017, the overall tax rate — which includes the E&O levy, the tech levy, existing bonds, and the state school tax rate — was $7.96 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That dropped to $7.85 for 2018, and under the proposed bond would drop to $7.25 in 2019, then go up to $7.55 in 2020 and stay there for at least the next three years.

“Really when you look at it, our taxpayers are kind of winners because of the way money is apportioned to Ellensburg School District,” Aiken said. “Before it was it was a much higher levy.”

Overall, the administration and school board are excited for the plan, since it addresses so many issues while being able to drop the overall tax rate.

“Our obligation is to provide a clean, safe learning environment for our kids,” Aiken said. “We’ve got to address those kinds of things. Previous plans may not have done that. That’s one of the reasons we’re so excited. It’s checking off all the boxes of our needs.”

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