By now you’ve probably heard that Bethel is growing. The district has welcomed more than 2,000 students since its last new schools were built in 2009, and demographic projections indicate that another 3,000 students will arrive over the next 10 years.
In fact, Bethel currently enrolls 2,065 more students than its buildings were designed to accommodate. To comfortably educate those extra students, the district now uses 201 portable classrooms. The district’s preschool programs also serve 565 students and have a waiting list hundreds long that can’t be accepted due to limited capacity.
With that information in mind, a community-led Long Range Facilities Task Force convened in 2017 to come up with strategies for how best to serve Bethel’s growing population. The Task Force, and later the Bethel School Board, agreed that what the district needs is a combination of new schools and an increased capacity at several older schools.
“The recommendation from the Citizens Task Force was basically to build new buildings, and build them bigger,” said Superintendent Tom Seigel.
Last February, and again this past November, Bethel proposed a bond measure that would have, among a host of other projects, built two brand new elementary schools. The bond would have also built a comprehensive high school, rebuilt Challenger High School, renovated Bethel High School, and renovated and expanded four other schools.
Voters rejected both of those bonds, making them the 16th and 17th such bond failures in the last 21 attempts since 1980. The overcrowding issues still exist, so the school board is putting the same bond back on the ballot in February.
In addition to having state-of-the art learning amenities, the two new elementary schools would greatly alleviate the overcrowding at other district schools.
The schools would be 80,000 square feet and comfortably house 700 students on each new campus.
“They’ll have an appearance and a feel of Spanaway Elementary, Clover Creek, and Frederickson. They’ll likely be two stories,” said Cathie Carlson, Bethel’s Director of Construction and Planning.
One of the schools would be built on land the district already owns near Naches Trail Elementary. The second location has yet to be determined, but one possible location is near the Lipoma Firs neighborhood off Meridian.
District leaders are convinced that adding schools is the only way to meet the needs of a growing population, but asking taxpayers to contribute their hard-earned money is a decision that’s never taken lightly.
“Property-rich school districts like those in the Seattle area will pay more for public education. That money will then be sent to the state, and the state will then turn around and send it to — in our case — Bethel. As a result, our local taxpayers don’t have to pay that money,” Seigel said.
Election Day is February 12. More information about the bond is available here.