High school at K2? Developers put forward a proposal

Two Islanders working to develop the former K2 site into a commercial and community hub have approached school district officials with an offer — a state-of-the-art, fully developed high school at the site for $48 million.

Over the last two weeks, Dick Sontgerath and Truman O’Brien have met with Superintendent Terry Lindquist and Board Chair Bob Hennessey about their proposal, which would not only transform nearly half of the cavernous K2 structure into a high school but also cover the costs of improvements to the high school’s existing track, demolition work at the school and a campus-wide data and telecom system.

The timing of the pitch is significant: Less than two months ago, Vashon voters defeated a $78 million package that would have included many of the same amenities and improvements.

School officials, however, are cool to the idea.

The proposal would break up the current 110-acre campus, where the high school is a pleasant walk past play fields and woods to the middle and elementary schools and where the schools can easily share facilities, Hennessey noted.

As a result, the school district would have to operate a shuttle service to bring Sontgerath and O’Brien’s vision to fruition, Hennessey said — an ongoing expense that would last in perpetuity.

“A lot of my concerns are based on geography, pure and simple, and the economics of that geography,” said Hennessey, who toured the K2 site with Sontgerath and O’Brien last weekend. “I don’t see how that can be overcome.”

What’s more, he noted, the plan would leave the school district with an empty high school, another large, vacant building on Vashon.

“We have land that we own and buildings that we own. We’re being asked to cast those aside and buy new land and a new building and somehow that would be cheaper,” Hennessey said.

Suggesting the proposition was risky, he added, “I’m not interested in gambling with taxpayer money.”

Dan Chasan, another member of the school board, said he, too, has concerns. The K2 redevelopment proposal — a plan to transform the 180,000-square-foot structure into a commercial center with a bowling alley, café, conference center and hotel — is ambitious and far from guaranteed, he noted.

“What happens if we’re occupying a chunk of the building and the rest is empty or bankrupt? That’s a real risk,” he said.

Even so, Chasan said the board needs to consider the idea.

“I think we have to look at any proposal that would get us to where we want to go with the best value to the taxpayers,” Chasan said.

Sontgerath declined to comment on the proposal, and O’Brien did not return a telephone call.

Their two-page proposal to school officials suggests a wide-ranging concept. The plan would create 82,000 square feet of school space, including 40,000 square feet for classrooms, a large teachers’ lounge and cafeteria, 6,600 square feet for the district’s administrative offices and a 10,000-square-foot theater and multi-purpose space.

Also included in the costs would be the school district’s contribution to a gym and a pool at K2; $3 million in improvements to the stadium, track and field at the current high school; $1 million to tear down some of the old high school buildings and more than $2 million for improvements at both McMurray Middle School and Chautauqua Elementary School.

Hennessey, however, said he questions some of the cost assumptions in the plan, which are far lower than what the district’s architects put forward several months ago.

“We have facilities that were built for educational purposes. They have a warehouse,” he said. “I’m dubious that they can renovate a warehouse for less than we can renovate a school.”

Lindquist, who also has concerns about the plan, said he hopes the board will at least take a look at it at an upcoming board meeting.

When Lindquist met with them two weeks ago, Sontgerath and O’Brien suggested the high school they envision at K2 would be so sophisticated and cutting edge that it could become a “poster child in The New York Times,” Lindquist said.

“If you can get that for $48 million, that might be pretty good,” he added.

Lindquist mentioned the proposal to high school teachers at their recent faculty meeting, however, and noted that “they were less than enthusiastic.”

“I think the board has to consider this, but I think there are an awful lot of dimensions to it,” Lindquist said.

What’s more, he noted, this is not the first time this issue has come before the district. A year ago, the two Island businessmen put forward a similar proposal to place a new high school in K2. The board rejected the idea, based on concerns about student safety, costs and insurance coverage.

Asked what’s different this time around, Lindquist said not much.

“They just think it’s a better deal now. And now they see that the bond issue went down, there might be a better opportunity.

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