In what several described as a difficult decision, board directors at Everett Public Schools voted Tuesday to use their condemnation powers for the first time in a quarter century to acquire four pieces of land in the Bothell area for a future high school.
The board voted 4-0 to use eminent domain.
“I think this is the hardest thing that the school district has to do,” board member Traci Mitchell said. “… I think I’m feeling some of the emotion.”
Mitchell and her colleagues also acknowledged a sense of urgency for building the new school.
The parcels lie in the far southeast end of the district, literally touching Snohomish County’s fastest-growing area. Horse pastures and orchards down the street have been developed into subdivisions over the past few years.
Leo and Marla Gese have lived on 174th Street Southeast, east of Sunset Road, for 15 years. They’re not against selling, but said the district’s offers are based on rural land values. Their 3.8 acres where they keep horses border urban properties on two sides. They said they’ve fielded offers from developers, including one nearly three times higher than the district’s most recent overture.
“We can’t even move next door — next door — for the price we’ve been offered for our property,” Marla Gese said. “We’re going to have to move outside the community we’re all connected to.”
Everett Public Schools wants a new high school to house an expanding student body. Enrollment is projected to reach 19,840 district wide this fall and grow by another 1,600 students within a decade. Two of the district’s three comprehensive high schools are over capacity.
Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek now has 17 portable classrooms, some of the 115 portables used district wide. That number would grow to 145 across the district in 2026, if no other schools get built, said Leanna Albrecht, a district spokeswoman.
The Northshore School District, which touches the Everett schools boundary along 180th Street SE, is managing similar growth. Its new North Creek High School opened for its first day of classes last week. That campus is only 1.5 miles from where Everett schools officials want to build the new high school.
The future campus would cover about 44 acres, including land for an adjacent elementary school. The district already owned nearly 30 acres immediately north of 180th Street when it started negotiating for another 14.5 acres in 2015.
The district has reached agreements to buy roughly half of those parcels along 174th Street SE, an area that would be the future school’s ball fields.
Three sets of owners with another 6.7 acres are holding out, including the Geses. Under eminent domain, the district could take ownership of that land. A Snohomish County Superior Court judge would set the purchase price. The process would last an estimated eight months.
District officials said they offered $10,000 more than fair market value for the properties this summer. The Geses said the $665,000 the district was willing to pay is tens of thousands of dollars less than what many small-lot homes are selling for next door and far less than what developers have offered.
Building the fourth large high school would depend on voters passing an Everett schools bond in February. Construction costs are estimated at $220 million. Projected costs have risen about 18 percent since May because of the construction boom, Albrecht said.
If the bond passes, the high school could open in 2022.
The future secondary school would be immediately next to a new elementary school the district is building. Elementary School No. 18, as the project is known, has a construction budget of $43.9 million. It is scheduled for completion in August 2019 with room for 550 students in grades K-5. Voters approved funding for the elementary school in 2016.
Everett Public Schools officials said they last used eminent domain 25 years ago for land that became athletic fields at Jackson High School.