Kent School District crews built a sidewalk in front of River Ridge Elementary when it opened in 2021 but not south of the school along Military Road South were children walk. The district plans to spend $3.52 million this summer to build a sidewalk. COURTESY PHOTO, City of SeaTac

Kent School District crews built a sidewalk in front of River Ridge Elementary when it opened in 2021 but not south of the school along Military Road South were children walk. The district plans to spend $3.52 million this summer to build a sidewalk. COURTESY PHOTO, City of SeaTac

Kent School District boosts cost for River Ridge Elementary sidewalk

District operations official doesn’t explain $2 million increase or $600,000 price above the bid

The Kent School Board recently approved a River Ridge Elementary School sidewalk project to be built this summer for $3.52 million, more than $2 million higher than the estimated cost it approved in May 2022.

Dave Bussard, the Kent School District executive director of Operations & Facilities, didn’t explain the higher costs during his May 10 presentation to the board. He also didn’t explain why $3.52 million needed to be approved while the project bid, also approved by the board, was $2.91 million, according to district documents.

No board members questioned Bussard about the price increase of $2 million or the budget discrepancy of nearly $600,000. The board approved the project with a 4-0 vote. Director Awale Farah had an excused absence.

Bussard, the district’s project manager for the River Ridge sidewalk, didn’t respond to emails or voicemails from the Kent Reporter with questions about the project and the cost differences, all paid for by taxpayers through property taxes.

Voters approved a district bond in 2016 that included building River Ridge Elementary, which is in the city of SeaTac, 23040 Military Road S., but part of the Kent School District. The school sits just east of Interstate 5. The $3.52 million cost for the sidewalk project will be funded by the 2016 bond contingency, according to district documents, an increase of the initial school construction budget.

River Ridge opened in fall 2021, but with the only sidewalk right in front of the school property. Children who walk to school must use a shoulder along Military Road South.

According to an interlocal agreement approved last year by the school board and the SeaTac City Council, the city agreed to pay $500,000 toward the project with the district covering the remaining estimated $750,000 to $975,000 for the estimated $1.25 million to $1.47 million project. District and city officials said they planned to complete the project last summer, but the work was delayed until this summer.

Board director Leslie Hamada said community members had raised questions about it taking the district so long to build a sidewalk, so she asked Bussard to explain the delay.

Bussard replied that he had been in his district job for six years but previously he worked for private companies. He said there were a lot of public agencies to work with on the project.

“In the private world you’ve got to get things done,” Bussard said. “In the public world, it’s not the same.”

Bussard said permits for building River Ridge included working with the city of SeaTac, storm and sewer with the city of Kent, water with the Highline Water District and fire alarm permits with Puget Sound Fire.

“It’s the first time we had to work with seven agencies to build one building,” Bussard said.

Bussard said the district has built great relationships with the public agencies, including SeaTac city officials. He told the board the city saved the district “several hundred thousands of dollars” by not charging permit fees or requiring removal of light poles and telephone poles.

“They’re giving back to the school district and they’ll get a sidewalk built,” Bussard said. “It’s a win-win for all.”

Kyle Moore, spokesperson for the city of SeaTac, said in a reply to a Kent Reporter email that the city handled the permitting process internally. He disagreed that the city saved the district several hundred thousands of dollars as claimed by Bussard.

“This likely saved the school district tens of thousands of dollars in permit fees, but no internal audit of this has been or will be performed to determine a more exact amount,” Moore said when told the district had claimed higher savings.

Board director Meghin Margel asked Bussard about the city of SeaTac’s role in paying for the project.

“We did not pay for permits, but we will pay for the project,” Margel said. “It is normal for a school district to pay for sidewalks on public streets?”

“It is not,” Bussard said.

Under the interlocal agreement, however, the city paid $500,000 toward the project, covering costs the district didn’t have to pay.

Moore, the city spokesperson, said that total included nearly $300,000 for right-of-way acquisition for the property needed to build the sidewalk. City staff successfully negotiated 16 property purchases.

“The city was able to accomplish this mission by working collaboratively with property owners avoiding the condemning of any property,” Moore said.

Moore said property acquisition can be complex and that’s one reason for the delay of the project.

City staff also worked with utilities to relocate overhead and underground utilities as needed to accommodate the improvements and design review, permitting and inspections.

Crews will install about 1,250 feet (one-quarter mile) of sidewalk from near South 225th Place to South 229th Place. Construction this summer along the east side of the road will include a bike lane, curb and gutter, a 6-foot wide sidewalk, a 6-foot wide landscape strip and pedestrian level lighting, according to district and city documents.

Moore said a complicated stormwater design and various design elements that needed significant attention also delayed the project.

“Fortunately, the city has extensive experience with these types of infrastructure projects,” Moore said. “Because of its knowledge, the city was able to work with the designer to accelerate the project schedule over what would have occurred without city participation.”

Moore said city staff has worked closely with district staff.

“The city worked with the school district to ensure no obstacles for delivering this project,” Moore said. “As it stands today, the city/school district collaboration has resulted in a complex project coming to fruition as quickly as possible to ensure the safety of our children as they walk to and from school.”

No sidewalks initially

Moore said River Ridge Elementary School was intended to be a bus only school (no students were expected to walk); therefore, there was not a requirement as part of the school development/construction to build a safe walking route for children walking to school from the south.

“Once it was understood that students were walking to school, the city of SeaTac and Kent School District worked to develop the sidewalk project together to expedite construction,” Moore said.

District officials had hoped to construct a walking path between the school and the Grandview Apartments, 3900 Veterans Drive, where a number of elementary students live.

But that path would have gone through the Grandview Off-Leash Dog Park, 3507 S. 228th St.

“We wanted a pathway from the back of Grandview Apartments into the dog park,” Bussard said to the board in May 2022. “We could utilize a pathway cut through the dog park (on the paved on-leash area) and come up the back of the (school) property with kids not even touching Military Road. But the dog park board rejected the plan, and the SeaTac city manager upheld it.”

The dog park is owned by the city of SeaTac, but a local nonprofit group helps oversee it.

Elynn Miller Clayton, president of Dogs of Grandview Supporters (DOGS), explained in a June 2022 Kent Reporter article that the group opposed the path because children from the apartment complex go to the park without adult supervision and taunt and throw rocks at the dogs.

“The bottom line is that Grandview is a dog park, not a walk-through park for children, and not a place for children to play…it is a dog park… a place for dogs,” Clayton said.

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