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Old school house placed on back burner

  • Written by Don Mann
It’s back to the chalkboard for the fate of the Old Woodinville Schoolhouse.

Influenced by Woodinville Heritage Society leadership, which spoke passionately on retaining the historic landmark with maximum integrity during the public comment segment of Tuesday’s meeting, the Woodinville City Council voted unanimously (5-0, as council members Art Pregler and Les Rubstello were absent) to postpone any decision on the future of the 103-year-old edifice for three months and asked city staff to work with the Heritage Society to come up with an alternative plan for rehabilitation.

It was essentially a rejection of all three proposals put forth by consulting group Heartland LLC at the April 10 meeting and reviewed at an April 17 executive session. The first proposal called for public/private school house renovation for commercial use with a city hall plaza over an underground parking structure. The second proposal called for the same but included mixed-use development. The third called for selling the public property to a private developer for large mixed-use development, and included the demolition of the Carol Edwards Center.

The proposals would cost between an estimated $3.5 and $5.5 million — and likely in the end more than that —  money the city has repeatedly stated it does not have.

On Tuesday city staff asked council to select one of the rehabilitation options to be included in a Request for Proposals (RFP) to be circulated to the development community.

It never got that far.

Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen immediately moved to have city staff work with the Heritage Society to look at options for simply “preserving” the old school house.

“Our civic campus and public land are very important to our citizens and I’m not willing to give that up to renovate the old school house,” she said.

“I think there are other options we can explore that are not being explored … I’m excited to be able to offer that building and that property to our community. I’m not ready to go out to an RFP.”

Mayor Bernie Talmas added he was not comfortable with any of the proposals.

“They don’t really deal with the school house,” he said. “They deal with the parking and related issues.”

The city, incidentally, will pay Heartland a reported $200,000 in consulting fees.

Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders said she wanted to repeat her position on the issue: “I do not want (us) to be the developer on this. I am not comfortable spending the city’s operating or capital budget. I am very much in favor of sending it to a vote of the people or a bond issue that would be paid for by some additional kind of taxes … I would vote in favor of that myself. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to take this (issue) to the front of the line and defer all the other maintenance, transportation and safety projects that we have on our capital improvement plan.”

Among them, some of which were spoken about later in the meeting in a discussion of 2012 council work plan and priorities, include the Sammamish River Bridge replacement project, the Woodinville-Duvall Road widening project, as well as sidewalk construction and road repair among others.

City Manager Richard Leahy then said there was no “drop-dead” time frame for the staff to take action on the issue.

“We’re more than happy to sit down and talk to the Heritage Society,” he said. “As you well know, the (then) City Hall staff moved out of that building in 2001 and it’s 2012 now and nothing’s changed. So there’s no immediate time issue … It’s really up to the council.”

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