The situation the Ellensburg School District finds itself in regarding the elementary school construction at Mount Stuart can be broken into two distinct discussion points:

n Decisions that led up to the purchase the Winegar’s property for $750,000.

n Decisions on moving forward after determining that wetlands issues make construction on the Winegar’s property cost prohibitive.

Both are important points to discuss, but in terms of charting the district’s future, the second is the most pertinent.

In regard to the first topic, the district spent $750,000 on 29 acres land for a new school that ultimately cannot be used for that purpose.

Although there were known flood plain issues on the land, district officials said they were not aware of the full extent until more extensive testing was done after the purchase.

But the bottom line is the Ellensburg School Board following the recommendation of district staff spent $750,000 of taxpayer money on property that cannot be used for the purpose of a new school.

There’s no defecting responsibility or blaming the situation on the state Department of Ecology’s assessment. The school board and district own this decision.

That said, what matters more than assigning blame is charting the best path forward. What can not be allowed to happen is compounding one mistake with another mistake.

This may sound counterintuitive, but the board must resist the urge to “make the best of the situation.”

What needs to be done is to make the best decision for years to come.

What the board seems to be doing is looking at a situation where it has 29 acres that can’t be used for its intended purpose. One of the quirks of the current Mount Stuart site is the land has restrictions — namely about 18 acres need to be left as open space for a park.

The board sees itself with land that can only be used for open space so is trying to figure out how to configure two schools on a much more restrained Mount Stuart site. In essence, the idea is to build two new schools on each side of the current Mount Stuart and then when construction is done, demolish Mount Stuart and use it for a parking lot. The north lot, unusable for other purposes, becomes the open space/park land.

Originally the plan was to remodel Mount Stuart and build a new school on the property north of campus. The first curve ball in this process was finding out it would be cheaper to build new than to remodel Mount Stuart.

The question is, at the start of this process, when this project was being sold to the public leading up to the bond election did anyone ever say: “The best idea for students of today and tomorrow is to build two new grade schools adjacent to each other.”

The answer is no. The adjacent school plan helps get them out of this jam but does it make sense 10, 20 or 30 years down the road? The board is also looking at the idea of a K-2 and a 3-5 building.

There is a documented need for grade school classroom space. There are enough students housed in portable buildings right now to fill a new school. But this process also has been influenced by outside factors from the get-go. The board pushed to get a package together so when the high school bond comes of the tax roles in 2021, the middle school bond could be slipped in. It was a good idea. Even with the new middle school project the overall tax rate would drop thanks to the lowering of the levy rate.

But the phrase “pump the brakes” should be going through heads of district administrators and school board members. Even at last week’s meeting the board was presented with a sketch of the building configuration that looked like it had been drawn by Donald Trump with a Sharpie.

The board is holding an open house at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 26 at Mount Stuart. People need to show up to that meeting and voice their views.


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