Task force recommends schools pass on building in rural areas
April 18, 2012
A 30-member task force unanimously agreed to recommend that new school sitings in King County be done in urban areas and rural towns, not in areas designated as rural.
King County officials announced the decision April 11.
“These are thoughtful recommendations that will help deliver educational excellence for our children without sacrificing the environment of our rural areas,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine in a press release.
According to the county, the School Siting Task Force evaluated an inventory of 18 rural properties owned by eight school districts in King County. The county lists one such property owned by the Snoqualmie Valley School District in North Bend.
Twin Falls Middle School sits on part of the 40.7-acre property on Middle Fork Road whose assessed value is more than $875,000.
The task force, whose members included North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing, described the site as lacking significant conservation value and described the school district as affected by its high percentage of floodplain land, making finding an alternate site for a school a challenge.
The task force report noted that the district has prepared the site for the addition of a school on the eastern corner of the district if needed.
SnoqualmieValley Schools Superintendent Joel Aune praised the decision as a positive development for the community.
“It would have been a shame, for both the school district and the taxpayers, if the property had been restricted as a future school site,” Aune said in a statement.
The county described all 18 properties as “straddling” the Urban Growth Boundary, established under state law with the idea of safeguarding rural areas and preventing urban sprawl. The county states the lands were purchased by the school districts involved with an eye toward future growth.
Besides the Snoqualmie district, other districts involved include Northshore, Lake Washington, Issaquah, Kent and Tahoma.
“The questions of whether schools should continue to be sited in rural areas has been unresolved for more than a decade,” said Louise Miller, task force chairwoman and a former King County Council member. “I’m happy to have been part of its solution.”
According to the county, the task force looked at a wide range of technical information in developing its recommendations, including perceived public health benefits connected with placing schools closer to homes so that students can walk or bike to school.
“Children can do better if they can walk to a neighborhood school rather being bused to a remote site in the rural area,” said rural area resident John Chaney, a task force member. “I’m pleased the task force was able to take a comprehensive look at our land use planning and develop solutions that will be lasting.”
Formation of the task force stems from an agreement between King County, Seattle, Bellevue, and the Suburban Cities Association in November to examine the question of whether sewer lines should be extended into rural areas.
The next step appears to be for Constantine to review the task force recommendations and propose new countywide planning policies. The county council will have the final say on any new rules, possibly in September.
Sebastian Moraga: 392-6434, ext. 221, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.