The South Snohomish County apartment boom and thousands of new residents will not only change Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and unincorporated areas – with more than 8,000 new units under construction or planned – it may put the squeeze on the Edmonds School District. County planners estimate that in the next 20 years, Lynnwood will add 25,000 new residents, Edmonds 14,000 more, and another 13,000 will move into Mountlake Terrace.
But within just the next five years, this apartment surge may add more than 1,000 new students to a district already bursting at the seams. How will the district handle that growth?
These are the number of apartment units now under construction or in the permitting process:
Lynnwood: 4,087 units*
Unincorporated areas: 1,048
Mountlake Terrace: 693
Total: 6,839 units
*Note that Lynnwood has already approved construction of 6,000 units, which would bring the total to 8,700 or more units
Last month, the Lynnwood City Council voted to increase construction in the Lynnwood City Center to 6,000 units. Only two members voted no, arguing a serious impact on traffic and schools.
The school district has a formula to calculate student population growth. That formula adds .18 of a student for each apartment unit built. With the current total 6,839 new apartments districtwide, that formula works out to:
- 1,232 new students.
- That could increase to 1,575 students, if Lynnwood builds to 6,000 units.
- Those numbers do not include additional students from new single-family construction or families moving into existing housing.
Edmonds schools’ last major construction bond passed in 2014. Two years ago, voters rejected a $600 million bond that would have allowed the district to finish Spruce Elementary School (it did open this fall), replace College Place Middle School, replace Oak Heights and Beverly elementary schools, build an additional new elementary school, an additional new middle school, and build a new Innovative Learning Center for Scriber Lake High School and other programs. Last year, voters did pass a smaller levy– not a bond — with enough money to complete the new Spruce Elementary and begin a new Oak Heights school — although Oak Heights construction will not begin until 2025.
How much space does the Edmonds School District need?
In the past four years, the total number of students has declined slightly – but only in elementary schools. The middle and high school student count has stayed steady or increased slightly. The numbers started to drop even before the COVID pandemic. In September 2019, Edmonds counted 19,992 students in grades K-12. This September, the totals are 19,221 – a loss of 770 – over four years. But that has not relieved overcrowded classrooms. Schools spokesperson Harmony Weinberg said that the “likely top three schools for overcrowding are Hilltop, Terrace Park and Oak Heights.”
Oak Heights Elementary in Lynnwood is a prime example of what the school district faces. It is 55 years old, and the district has labeled it “functionally obsolete.” Storage rooms have been used for class space. Portables were without running water. Oak Heights has been the most crowded elementary in the district, with approximately 600 students this year. One forecast puts the student population there in the next five years at over 800; it was built for 450. The $70 million new school won’t break ground until 2025.
Students at Oak Heights, Terrace Park and Hilltop already fill 13 portable classrooms among them. A number of other schools are also maxed out. Fifty portable classrooms are scattered among nine elementary, two middle and two high schools across the district. “It is by far the most portables we have ever had,” District Operations Director Matt Finch said. There is very little vacant land for new schools – the district has only two parcels available – one near Lynnwood High, the other north of Beverly Elementary. Designs for replacing or remodeling existing schools will, said Finch, take into account the need for future classroom expansion, though he adds that the recommended maximum size for K-6 schools should not exceed 650 students.
Two years ago, the district was forced to reopen the old Woodway Elementary School as a kindergarten center for students from Westgate and Sherwood because there was not enough space in those schools for kindergarteners.
The big question, agreed Finch, is “are we behind” planning for growth? His answer is “no.” For now. “We’re pretty good for the next couple of years… we’re going to be fine and able to house students we’re projected to have,” Finch said. The district is, this month, putting together its bond and facilities committee to decide on a 2024 levy. That group will study projected student growth and the voters’ mood, said Finch, as district officials start “to wrap our heads around how to handle this.” He admits that “any future attempt at funding will be a challenge.”
Finch said he is confident the committee will have the information it needs in time for a 2024 measure; that they will have data from the cities and the county “to understand where they are going.” That data may not offer much reassurance to the challenges district schools face. Within the next five years, the district must make room for more than 1,000 students from the apartment surge and, ultimately,must plan for 50,000 new residents — and their children — in the next 20 years.
— By Bob Throndsen