BOTHELL — The construction wave hitting the area has sent more than a few ripples through local schools.
One elementary in the expanding suburbs between Mill Creek and Bothell needs 17 portable classrooms to cope with the influx of new students. Some other nearby schools have 10 or more portables.
To help relieve the pressure, the Northshore School District opened a temporary school for half-day kindergarten classes at an office park. The district hopes to further ease the situation next year by opening a new high school, redrawing attendance zones and shifting some grades to different schools.
“We know it’s stressful for families. We totally get it. It’s a matter of trying to manage things as best we can with our resources,” said Amy Cast, president of the Northshore School Board. “It’s something we really take seriously.”
The district has been growing by 300 to 400 students — the equivalent of a small elementary school — every year for the past several years. Northshore isn’t alone in playing catch-up with population growth. The Everett School District has seen similar trends on the south end of its territory. Both districts serve the North Creek area, which includes the corridors of 35th Avenue SE and the Bothell-Everett Highway. That leaves them to deal with side effects from the state’s hottest market for new homes for a year and running.
“Schools are maxed out — classroom sizes are high, and traffic getting in and out of parking lots is difficult,” said Karen Cohen, who has two sons enrolled at Northshore schools, where she’s active in the PTSA.
Cohen’s family moved to the area about three and a half years ago as the local elementary school, Canyon Creek in Bothell, bulged with students arriving from new subdivisions. The school now has 10 portable classrooms to accommodate a student population that stood at 765 at the beginning of the school year.
Cohen’s older son attends Skyview Junior High next door, where a shortage of lockers left some students waiting months to get one, she said. Buses can be crammed, too.
“I know (Northshore School District) is trying to play catch up but as home building continues and populations increase I doubt their plans will be able to meet the needs of an exploding population,” Cohen said.
The growth pains are shared at other schools in the north-central part of Northshore’s service area: Fernwood, Kokanee and Crystal Springs elementaries, along with Canyon Park Junior High.
At Fernwood, part of a dirt field is taken up by 17 portable classrooms to help manage a student body of 921.
The school on Jewell Road serves the area of unincorporated Snohomish County with the most intense development. Data from last year showed that more than 500 new homes had been approved in the school’s attendance area and were likely to be occupied within a couple of years, district officials reported. Another 300 home lots were going through early stages of the approval process and could be occupied within four years.
Northshore’s growing pains may be a symptom of its success. The district’s high academic rankings are one reason young families have flocked to the area. Many have been priced out of King County’s Eastside, where the average home prices surpassed the $560,000 that a typical new home in North Creek was fetching earlier this year.
School officials have no say over how many houses get built or where, let alone how many babies people have. Regardless, they have a responsibility to educate the children who come their way.
“We are planning and we do everything we can to get in front of it and to mitigate it,” said Karen Mooseker, the district’s director of capital projects.
They track trends in birth rates and new homes to make educated guesses.
The growth has hardly come as a surprise. Since 2001, the district’s Enrollment Demographics Task Force has brought together parents, business leaders, teachers and school administrators. They meet twice monthly, exploring strategies to address the changes in population. Their work is supported by a professional demographer and an urban planner.
“What we’re starting to see now — 2010 to today — is a similar trend to what we saw in the 1990s,” said Ryan Fujiwara, the district’s executive director of support services.
The district had more than 21,000 students at the start of this school year. Enrollment is expected to top 23,000 by the fall of 2024.
The district straddles the King-Snohomish County line. It serves the cities of Bothell, Kenmore and Woodinville, as well as pieces of Brier and Kirkland. But most of the growth is in the north-central part of the district in unincorporated Snohomish County.
The district also is split east-west by growth boundaries. That gives it swaths of rural territory to the east, where enrollment is stagnant or shrinking, and urban areas to the west, where home construction is booming. Fernwood Elementary sits just inside the urban boundary.
The district predicts a greater number of students arriving each year through 2021 before the trend starts to taper off. That forecast assumes that homebuilders will run out of buildable land for new housing developments a few years from now. Those assumptions could be thrown into doubt if Snohomish County officials in coming years expand the urban growth boundary.
Everett schools growing, too
Parents and students on the south end of the Everett School District, which includes newer neighborhoods in and around Mill Creek, face similar challenges.
Everett school officials project that the district’s student population will grow to exceed 21,000 in 2024, up from about 19,700 now. Enrollment has gone up by nearly 300 students since last year.
Problems have been most acute at Woodside and Silver Lake elementary schools.
Woodside has 10 portables and serves more than 680 students. The district’s largest elementary is Penny Creek, with 748 students, but a larger facility allows it to handle higher enrollment with four portables.
Other local schools where student populations far exceed the building’s capacity include Cedar Wood, with eight portables, and Silver Lake, with 11 portables.
District officials estimate they’ll need another 35 portable classrooms by 2024 to keep up with the student population.
“A significant piece for us is the impact that it will have on the high schools,” said Leanna Albrecht, an Everett schools spokeswoman.
Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek uses 14 portable classrooms to help accommodate its current student population of just over 2,100. To manage an expected enrollment of 2,400 by 2024, the district foresees the need to double the number of portables to 28. That won’t be easy, though.
“We would have to look at where we would be able to fit them on the site,” Albrecht said. “That could mean taking up parking or possibly tennis courts or other available areas.”
A bond measure that Everett School District voters passed in April would raise money to build a new elementary on the south end of the district and buy land for another sound-end school, among other projects. The new school is planned to open in the fall of 2019 immediately north of 180th Street SE, which is the dividing line between the Everett and Northshore districts. A levy approved earlier this year aims to raise money for more portable classrooms to relieve overcrowding.
How to cope
To help manage its growing enrollment, the Northshore School District is working on a bond package for 2018. That’s in addition to the strategies it’s employed over the past few years.
For this school year, the district opened the Northshore Primary Center at a Bothell office park. The center provides half-day kindergarten classes for students who live in the attendance areas for crowded Fernwood, Kokanee and Canyon Creek elementary schools.
The district hopes to offer full-day kindergarten at neighborhood schools starting in the fall of 2017, when it expects to discontinue the primary center. That’s part of a wider plan that includes opening a new high school and redrawing school boundaries.
Additionally, some grades are scheduled shift to different schools. Elementary schools would serve up through fifth grade, under the plan, with sixth-graders moving to middle schools. Ninth-graders, who are now taught at junior high schools, would attend high schools.
The district has been employing other techniques since 2013 to handle enrollment. It’s had to move programs such as before- and after-school care out of some campuses and shift special programs to schools in the southeastern part of the district.
North Creek High School is set to open open for the 2017-2018 school year. Initially, it would take in freshmen, sophomores and juniors. Class of 2018 seniors would stay at their current schools.
The North Creek campus off of 35th Avenue SE, directly north of Fernwood Elementary, should have room for about 1,600 students. That won’t be enough to solve crowding problems elsewhere.
“Even though North Creek High School is nearly completed, we know we need more capacity and we’re making efforts to keep moving forward,” said Cast, the school board president.
Over the long term, the district is in the hunt for land in the north-central part of its service area to build future schools. By the end of next summer, the school board hopes to formulate a bond package to send to voters in 2018.
They’re considering a new elementary school, and possibly a middle school, on land the district owns along Maltby Road. Special task forces have started looking into what the district needs in terms of facilities and technology. They’re preparing to make recommendations to the school board next year.
If things work out, they hope to open the Maltby Road school in or around 2020. They also are considering a new building to serve both Canyon Creek Elementary and Skyview Junior High, which are next door to each other.
“The cost is being evaluated right now, as well as other capital needs from around the district,” Cast said.
“We don’t want the pricetag to be too high because we’re very cognizant of everyone’s property-tax level.”
Whatever they do, they can’t keep adding portables. There isn’t enough room.
The Northshore district now has 125 portable classrooms, up from 76 a decade ago. Nearly half of them are at five north-end elementary schools: Canyon Creek, Crystal Springs, Fernwood, Frank Love and Kokanee.
“We’re literally getting to the point where we don’t have space to add portables,” Cast said.
She thanked everyone for their patience.
“Our parents have been wonderful,” she said. “We have some schools that have been overcrowded.”