Thursday, June 24, 2010

School District Says: No Capacity in Southeast Olympia for Trillium

Above: Where the Sidewalk Ends: These girls have just a little bit more sidewalk ahead of them. Will they: a) turn right and run along the track on Washington Middle School grounds, b) risk crossing Boulevard, the street to their left, where cars often whiz by, much faster than the posted speed limit or c) continue straight, and choose to walk in the bike lane on the same side on the street, perilously close to cars. Answer: The girls ran onto the track to join friends.

by Janine Gates

A hearing on June 14 for a proposed development called Trillium in southeast Olympia prompted some alarming public testimony and questions about nearby school capacity issues.

The hearing examiner, Tom Bjorgen, asked city planner Brett Bures to bring a representative of the Olympia School District to the next hearing to answer questions.

The next Trillium hearing will be on Monday, June 28, 6:30 p.m., at Olympia City Hall in the council chambers. The hearing is a continuation of the first one, which ended at 11:00 p.m. due to time considerations.

A master planned development proposed by DR Horton, Trillium would consist of 500 single family and multi-family dwelling units bordered by Morse-Merryman Road Southeast, 40th Ave, and Highline Drive. The preliminary plat would subdivide the 80 acres into 313 residential lots.

In a letter dated April 15, 2010 to Cari Hornbein, senior planner for the city of Olympia, Olympia School District's (OSD) supervisor for capital planning and construction Tim Byrnes, states, "The District has no capacity for any students who may be generated by this large development. Therefore, we will bus students from this development to either Madison or Garfield Elementary School, until a new school is built to serve the students residing in the proposed Trillium development."

The letter concludes, "The District would like to suggest that owners of developments in the Southeast portion of Olympia consider land be provided for a future elementary school that could meet capacity needs."

In an interview, Byrnes acknowledged that he will likely be asked to testify at the hearing examiner's meeting on June 28, to answer Bjorgen's questions about school capacity issues. His letter to the city says the elementary, middle and high schools currently serving the proposed project's area, as well as two other local elementary schools, are over capacity.

Despite a population growth in Olympia over the past several years, overall enrollment has remained stable, hovering right around 9,000 students for the past several years within the school district, says Byrne.

Asked specifically about the proposed southeast Olympia developments such as Trillium, Chambers Lake Residential, and Bentridge, Bryne said that he knew about the hearing examiner's public hearing on Trillium on June 14, but had to attend a school district meeting.

"A few years ago, Trillium and Bentridge really concerned us because McKenny and Centennial (elementary schools) are over capacity. There's not even room for more portables. There's a little capacity at Pioneer, but with Briggs going in, perhaps next year they will reach capacity."

Byrne said, "One of my concerns is that the Boulevard/Yelm Highway interchange is a mess in the morning and afternoon. I can't imagine what it will be like with 1000 homes - 2000 additional vehicles. I don't see how the existing road can deal with the additional traffic."

The district also submitted a letter to the city in 2007 regarding its concerns with Trillium. It requested various off-site improvements in order to provide safe-walking routes to McKenny Elementary School, located on Morse-Merryman Road.

Above: The T-intersection of Boulevard and Morse-Merryman Roads at a quiet moment.

Bryne says he calculated numbers for the Bentridge and Trillium developments a couple of years ago and estimated that they would generate about 160 total new students for each development. Each development is similar in size. The type of proposed housing is important to consider when making these calculations.

"We have predicted that the number of students generated might be reduced because of the economy. We are getting more families in apartments than in single family dwellings," says Byrne.

For Bentridge, in the proposed single family dwellings, Byrne calculated the development would generate 55 elementary school students, 32 middle school students, and 46 high school students. Numbers for the multi-family dwellings within Bentridge came out to 16 elementary students, three middle school students, and nine high school students.

School Capacity Options

When schools are over capacity, the district has a couple of options: change boundaries to shift students to those schools where there is additional classroom space or new schools can be built.

Byrne says that each year, the district monitors new housing as well as developments that are in the permitting stage, as part of their capital facilities planning process. The district's facilities advisory committee met a couple times a month last year to stay on top of all the proposed southeast Olympia developments.

"We came to realize with all the developments, we will need a new school or move boundary lines to include Madison," said Byrne. Students from McKenny could be bussed to Madison, located on Legion Way. Madison Elementary School is currently under capacity.

Byrne says the Olympia School District will be initiating a review of its current school service areas and boundary lines in the fall.

The other solution is to build new schools.

"We are currently in the planning phase for a bond proposal for voters to consider in 2012. That would likely address the longer term capacity needs for students living in the southeast part of the district as well as other service areas," says Bryne.

"It's really difficult the way the housing market is - it's flat now but we could be in a pickle."

Building new schools requires approval by voters. As a result, the district has historically taken a cautious approach to capital construction, building new schools or adding classrooms.

"I recently reviewed some older student growth projections for 2010 that were done several years ago. Those projections put us at several thousand students beyond where we are currently. Obviously, if we had built schools based on those older projections, we would have a lot of empty buildings right now. We will continue to monitor potential developments like Trillium as well as others that are planned in this area to make sure we have capacity to serve those families who reside in the Olympia School District. We will need to build a new elementary school in the southeast area sometime," says Byrne.

Asked to comment on where this land might be, Bryne said that the Olympia School District owns land at the site of the former McKinley elementary school on Boulevard, where Eastside Pre-School currently sits, and land next to Centennial Elementary School.

Above: Olympia School District property at 12th Avenue SE and Boulevard could be the site of a future school.

Olympia High School

At the June 14 Trillium hearing, several current students or former students of Washington Middle School and Olympia High School, including a parent, testified regarding overcrowding issues at both schools.

Testimony included the serious allegations of students having to sit on the floor to eat lunch at Olympia High School. At Washington Middle School, a student testified that food was not available for those who ate at the third lunch period.

Asked to comment on this testimony, Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant did not want to directly dispute the student's testimony that students sit on the floor during lunch period.

"There is some element of truth to the comment. This is true especially at the beginning of the year when we're just getting settled. Students like to sit in groups, and they like to sit all together. If there isn't room for all of them to sit together, they will sit in a group on the floor. And if it's raining, it does get crowded....As the weather warms up, more students choose to sit outside, and that leaves more room for students to sit all together at the tables in the lunchroom."

As for the possibility a third lunch period, Grant says, "We're weighing that option right now. It really tears up your fourth period and brings with it a host of trash and supervision issues."

Washington Middle School

Regarding the comment by a Washington Middle School student that there is no food available at the third lunch period, Peter Rex, communications director for the Olympia School District, said that school principals typically monitor the food situation very closely and immediately bring concerns to the district.

Rex consulted with Peter Flock, the school district's food director, who said he has never heard of a lack of food in the twenty years he has been in the position. The district offers two or three entree choices. Flock suggested that perhaps the student's entree choice was not available by the third lunch period, but other options were available.

Students who have concerns about any issue are encouraged to speak with the principal of the school, say both Grant and Rex.

Washington Middle School principal Pat Robinson did not return phone calls to comment on this topic this past week.

Chambers Lake Residential Hearing Date Change

The hearing date for the proposed Chambers Lake Residential development has been changed to July 26, 6:30 p.m., at the Eastside Fire Station at 100 Eastside Street, off of Fourth Avenue.

The applicant, Triway Enterprises, proposes to develop the 40 acre parcel into 221 dwelling units. City staff has recommended a denial of this application based on the applicant's inadequate storm water design standards to deal with the southeast Olympia area's high groundwater levels. Other reasons are detailed in the city's staff report.

For more information about Chambers Lake Basin related developments, see the June 15 article, "Citizens Speak Against Trillium Development at Hearing," at

For more information, and to confirm the latest information, as hearing dates often change, contact Brett Bures, City of Olympia City Planner, at (360) 753-8568 or or go to the City of Olympia website at

Above: A sign like this means Something Is Going To Happen. Pull over carefully and check it out, or if that's not possible, contact the city of Olympia for more information. This sign, announcing the proposed Trillium development, is on Morse-Merryman Road, across from Sugarloaf Street.