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Publication Date: Friday, January 18, 2002

Trustees say district left out of Neal talks Trustees say district left out of Neal talks (January 18, 2002)

School officials want part in city discussions on school infrastructure

by Stephanie Ericson

School trustees expressed dismay at Tuesday's board meeting that the city has not invited district staff to meetings about building the infrastructure in the Vineyard Corridor, despite the fact that the district will pay part of the cost.

With residential development for that area delayed because of the present economic downturn, its infrastructure has been held up, resulting in a one-year postponement in building Neal Elementary School, now set to open August 2003.

Anxious to avoid a further delay, school officials said they should be part of ongoing detailed discussions between the city and Vineyard Corridor developers, because of outstanding questions about infrastructure costs and the school district's share.

"I really resent that we're going to be asked to pay 40 percent of the bill and we're not part of the discussions," said Trustee Juanita Haugen, referring to a figure often cited, but not necessarily accepted, as the district's share of the costs. "We need to work collaboratively and cooperatively with the city.... This is one area I don't understand why we're not working together."

Outgoing Superintendent Mary Frances Callan explained that the school district has been included in some larger meetings over the past year. However, she said, these were limited to General Plan discussions and the district was excluded from talks between the engineers.

"We've been told we need to wait until the experts work it out," she said. "We are fortunate that we have experts on our staff and we strongly believe that we have to be involved ... in those smaller meetings."

Legal consultant Harold Freiman said that the school district hopes to receive a memorandum from the city with information on the matter by the end of the month. But he also said that the district had expected such information initially in October and that its release had been postponed several times.

Freiman said there are several approaches to resolving the infrastructure problem, from finding a funding source for the entire planned infrastructure, with the city perhaps fronting some or all of the cost, to putting in a more limited infrastructure. But this would be more costly in the long run, he said.

Trustees expressed concerns about the ultimate cost to the school district and voiced a sense of urgency about resolving the issue.

"This board unanimously wants this school built yesterday," said School Board President Pat Kernan. "We will not pay for expenses that statutorially we are prohibited from doing. If it becomes a legal impossibility to build on that site, we will build elsewhere. But we want to build on that site and we want to build now."

The initial estimate put the price tag for the school district at $1.1 million. Freiman said this happened to be 40 percent of the entire infrastructure cost calculated at the time. But by the time developer fee agreements were finalized last year, 40 per cent had risen to $4.6 million and the latest estimate is $5.2 million. Freiman said that the district had never signed an agreement committing to 40 percent of the total costs and said that the district considered $4.6 million a cap on what it would pay.

In a later interview, City Attorney Michael Roush said that the district was responsible for 40 percent of the costs of building roadways because it would generate that portion of the area's traffic, and that its share of other components, such as sewer and water lines, would be different.

Roush also said there may be a misunderstanding on what has happened so far.

"At some point last year ... the school district made a request to see if the city might be able to help out with the infrastructure," he said. "In order for us to respond to that, we needed to look very closely to the developers' cost estimates."

Over the last several months, discussions between city and developer engineers have "narrowed the gap substantially" between their cost figures, Roush said.

"Discussions have not been about what needs to be done, but simply how did you derive those costs," he said. Decisions on the final scope of work are not being made now, he said.

Trustees plan to write a letter to the City Council asking for school district participation in any meetings on the infrastructure issue and to clarify what types of costs might be reimbursed to the district by the state. At Kernan's request, Trustee Cindy McGovern agreed to act as liaison with district staff and the city on the matter and added she hoped that a council member would also act as liaison.

"To move this along, it will take good communication between the two entities," she said.

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