Current Issaquah School District Plans are Damaging, both Financially and Environmentally
The Proposed Action
The Issaquah School District (ISD) is planning to build a new high school, sports complex AND an elementary school with 2,800 students and staff on a totally inadequate site off of 228th Ave. SE at the north end of the City of Issaquah. Although construction of the elementary school is now on hold because of a funding shortfall and declining enrollment projections, the ISD is still planning to prepare the elementary school site as a kind of “stake in the ground.”
The Proposed Site
The site is only 36 buildable acres. The district’s proposal jams too much “built” structure onto the available land, analogous to trying to place the proverbial 10 pounds of rocks into a five-pound bag. This presses the proposed buildings and sports fields very close to the Providence Point 55+ Community as well as the Bellewood Retirement Community. The multiple, adverse impacts of this proposed project are not even close to being sufficiently mitigated by ISD’s proposed plans.
Wasted Tax Dollars
After passing an over-one-half-billion-dollar levy in 2016 including this project, ISD, just before Thanksgiving, 2021, abruptly announced that they were delaying construction of the elementary school “indefinitely.” At the time, they claimed the delay was because enrollment figures did not support its construction. We later learned it was really because the entire project is $78,000,000 over budget and they needed the money planned for the elementary school ($34 million) to partially fill the deficit so they could “finish the high school.” Thus, this elementary school will need yet another levy for which there is no guarantee of passage. This is irresponsible management of the District’s fiduciary responsibility to its constituents.
Furthermore, the district’s proposal continues to include an unknown cost for a 2,000-seat grandstand, complete with lights, huge scoreboard, concession stands, press box, and PA system which will be used at capacity only four or five times a year. There is absolutely NO logical reason not to share near-by Skyline High School’s stadium for interscholastic competition. Skyline’s stadium was recently renovated at a cost of over $11 million! It sits empty during half the Friday nights of football season. Much less-expensive facilities could then be built on the proposed site for team practices and PE classes.
No Plans to Mitigate Stormwater Runoff
A significant increase in the volume of stormwater runoff from the construction and operation of the site will occur due to the enormous increase in the site’s impervious surface area. The impacts of this increase in volume have not even been adequately addressed in the plan, let alone mitigated. These impacts include stormwater flooding and erosion intruding onto neighboring properties along the north, southwest and south sides of the school site, and into Forest Village to the south of SE 43rd Way, through which Laughing Jacob’s Creek flows. This creek is a significant spawning ground for the threatened Kokanee Salmon and will also be significantly impacted, as will property owners located downstream. ISD continues to insist that the flow rate of this increased discharge will be no greater than the current, naturally occurring rate of discharge. What they refuse to recognize is that flow rate is only one component of stormwater-caused erosion. The other component is total flow volume, which will be dramatically increased, hence an increase in erosion.
Furthermore, the district has so far refused to describe any plans for mitigating the environmental impacts of clearing the elementary-school site. These include the impacts that stormwater runoff from the deposited fill will have on neighboring properties, as well as increasing the silt pollution of Laughing Jacob Creek.
The District’s own traffic studies indicate at least 4,500 vehicle trips per weekday will be generated by the two schools. Yet there is only ONE combined entry and exit point for both schools, and very limited internal traffic circulation routes. New stop lights, and extensive road construction, including a seven-lane intersection, will be required at the site’s entry/exit point on 228th Ave. SE, and at SE 40th St. (at considerable taxpayer expense). So far, no permit has been granted for this construction by the City of Sammamish, which has jurisdiction over this right-of-way. How can this project be approved without knowing what the access/egress will look like and its impact on local traffic?
Peak traffic for both schools will occur during the morning rush hours when 228th SE is already crowded by commuter traffic exiting the Sammamish Plateau. Significant increases in travel times and accident risks for commuters, school busses, students driving to the high school and parents trying to drop off children at the elementary school will be created. Even with only the high school as currently proposed, many of these same issues will still exist.
Student and Staff Safety
Safety concerns have not been addressed relative to mixing elementary students and teenage drivers on the same, cramped site, as well as the large numbers of people on a site, both day and night, which has no perimeter security fence or security plan.
The proposed site is located up a steep hill from 228th Ave SE, and a significant distance away from the residential areas from which the elementary school would draw students. This location will make safely walking and biking to it essentially impossible. 228th Ave SE is already very busy and will become significantly more so if this project is built as planned, making it even more hazardous for bikes and pedestrians. If the elementary school is ever built, parents will be forced to drive their children to school (or have them bussed) during backed-up peak morning traffic and will face additional backups once they are on the site.
Felling Trees to Deposit Fill
Despite the delay in the elementary school’s construction, ISD has acknowledged their intent to clear the three-acre elementary school site of all its trees so they can deposit fill there from the grading activities on other portions on the property. Substantial grading, dirt movement and use of obtrusive retaining walls on the site, some of them 12-20 feet high, are necessitated by the District’s intent to make the site nearly flat. Why not more creative use of the site’s existing topography?
Contrary to City’s Climate Action Plan
Elimination of a huge number of mature trees, which have been on the property for many decades, is contrary to the City’s newly released Climate Action Plan to address climate change. The District is not creating a sustainable, future-oriented project despite providing “green” programs for students. “Green Building” standards and other modern energy-saving design, construction, operation and maintenance methods are ignored. There is not a rooftop solar panel or rain garden anywhere to be seen.
No Testing for Lead or PCBs
Additionally, the City of Issaquah’s repeated insistence on further testing and reporting to the State Department of Ecology of proven lead presence in a major area where soil would be moved, is shuffled off for a later, indefinite time, as is testing for known PCBs.
Inadequate Water to Maintain Buffer
The District claims it has provided an “expanded buffer” on the perimeter of the site. However, it fails to acknowledge that the plan does not provide for adequate irrigation of this buffer to prevent its trees and other vegetation from dying for lack of water.
Not Compatible with Surrounding Neighborhoods
Contrary to the Issaquah City’s Staff Report, the proposed development is most certainly NOT compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods as required by City Code (Issaquah Municipal Code [IMC], Section 18.07.480 “Community Facilities Standards,” Part A). It would create very significant, adverse impacts on those neighborhoods including visual, noise and nighttime-light intrusions on nearby properties. Previous detailed public comments pointed out the weaknesses, erroneous code interpretations, and incorrect analyses and conclusions by ISD of its noise and other studies. As a result, the impact of the proposed 2000-seat grandstands and other spectator amenities located less than 100 yards from neighboring residences would be far greater than reported. No other high school in the District has a grandstand and two large ball complexes located this close to a residential community. These impacts are not even close to being sufficiently mitigated by the proposed plans.
Public Comments Not Valued
ISD received over 250 responses to its second SEPA environmental determination (a “Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance, or MDNS for short) which either asked, or implied, that an independent Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be prepared on this complex proposal. These requests were ignored and never addressed in ISD’s final MDNS. ISD continues to steadfastly refuse to prepare an independent EIS. If built as planned, the project will create multiple adverse environmental impacts which, in many cases, have not ever been addressed, let alone adequately mitigated, in their plan.
Finally, the last several pages of the Staff Report contain 52 Conditions that must be met for the project to proceed. However, it appears that many of these Conditions lack any means of enforcement once permits are issued. If not carried out by ISD, once the site has been completely cleared and graded, will the project necessarily be suspended, resulting in an environmental nightmare and eyesore for years to come? Many of these conditions regard issues raised by the public, as well as the Cities of Issaquah and Sammamish, in comments made to the District on their two MDNS’s. The District ignored these comments and has made no substantive changes in its plan to address them. It is naïve to assume that, if the proposed project is approved, ISD will not do the same with regard to many of these conditions and simply continue to bulldoze the city into granting exceptions to them.
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C-Care is concerned that the ISD is planning to squeeze a new high school AND an elementary school onto a single, insufficient campus at the Sammamish/Issaquah border.