Seattle asks for big, expensive schools

More space needed, construction costs higher, officials say

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SEATTLE (AP) — If voters approve a levy proposal Tuesday, the Seattle school district plans to build some of the biggest, most expensive elementary schools in the state.

The average price tag of the schools in Seattle's levy proposal is at least 20 percent higher than every other similar project recently approved in the state.

Both Seattle and Tacoma voters will be deciding next week whether to grant hundreds of millions of dollars to build, repair and upgrade schools.

Both districts are asking for money to pay for dozens of construction projects over the next decade. But Tacoma's levy request asks for about $30 million for each of eight elementary schools it wants to build. Seattle is seeking about $42 million for each of six schools.

By comparison, rural-school districts over the past three years have been asking for about $20 million for new elementary schools, according to election records. Suburban districts have been requesting about $30 million.

One reason for the difference is the size of the Seattle schools, which will be among the biggest built in Washington, which the district said would help them be flexible enough to add more students when necessary. For now, however, the schools are projected to hold slightly more than the average number of kids at Washington elementary schools, so each student at a new Seattle school will get more space in classrooms, the gym and the library than students at other districts.

Seattle's proposal also includes above-average spending on planning and design.

Seattle school officials said they are planning on bigger buildings than average because the district needs to address overcrowding.

"Seattle Public Schools has a fast-growing enrollment, and levy funding, if approved, will pay for capital and technology projects throughout the region to ensure our students have safe and healthy school buildings," district spokeswoman Lesley Rogers wrote in an email.

Seattle's six-year, $695 million construction levy would repair or replace 17 aging buildings, upgrade technology districtwide and add nearly 8,000 seats for students.

The construction levy would cost the owner of a $400,000 home about $100 more per year than the current rate, which is $285.

Four of the elementary schools would hold 650 students each, and two would be built for 500 students but have the core facilities to support expansion to 650.

The cost estimator Seattle hired for the levy, Kirk Robinson, said the above-average price tags are also connected to more expensive construction costs in Seattle, inflation for the schools that will be built in future years, and unusual costs such as a traffic light that would need to be built outside one of the new schools.