South Snohomish County’s apartment boom and thousands of new residents won’t just change Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and unincorporated areas – with more than 8,000 new units under construction or planned – it could put pressure on on the Edmonds School District. County planners estimate that over the next 20 years, Lynnwood will add 25,000 new residents, Edmonds another 14,000 and another 13,000 will move into Mountlake Terrace.
But in the next five years alone, this wave of apartments could add more than 1,000 new students to an already jam-packed neighborhood. How will the district handle this growth?
Here is the number of apartment units currently under construction or in the approval process:
Lynnwood: 4,087 units*
Unincorporated areas: 1,048
Mountlake Terrace: 693
Total: 6,839 units
*Note that Lynnwood has already approved the construction of 6,000 units, which would bring the total to 8,700 units or more
Last month, Lynnwood City Council voted to increase construction in downtown Lynnwood to 6,000 units and dropped any idea of multi-family limits elsewhere in the city. Only two members voted no, citing a serious impact on traffic and schools.
The school district has a formula for calculating student population growth. This formula adds 0.18 student for each apartment built. With a current total of 6,839 new apartments across the district, this formula works out to:
- 1,232 new students.
- That could grow to 1,575 students, if Lynnwood builds up to 6,000 units.
- These figures do not include additional students from new single-family construction or families moving into existing housing.
Edmonds’ last major school building bond was passed in 2014. Two years ago, voters rejected a $600 million bond that would have allowed the district to complete Spruce Elementary School (it opened this fall), replace College Place Middle School, replace Oak Heights and Beverly Elementary Schools, build an additional new elementary school, additional new middle school, and build an innovative new learning center for Scriber Lake High School and other programs. Voters last year passed a smaller tax — not a bond — with enough money to complete the new Spruce Elementary and start a new school in Oak Heights — though construction in Oak Heights won’t begin until in 2025.
How much space does the Edmonds School District need?
Over the past four years, the total number of students has slightly decreased, but only in elementary schools. The number of middle and high school students remained stable or increased slightly. The numbers started dropping even before the COVID pandemic. As of September 2019, Edmonds had 19,992 K-12 students. As of September, the totals are 19,221 – a loss of 770 – over four years. But that did not relieve overcrowded classrooms. Schools spokeswoman Harmony Weinberg said “the three schools most likely to be overcrowded are Hilltop, Terrace Park and Oak Heights.”
Oak Heights Elementary in Lynnwood is a prime example of what the school district is facing. It’s 55 years old and the district called it “functionally obsolete.” Storage rooms were used for classroom space. Cell phones were without running water. Oak Heights was the busiest elementary in the district, with about 600 students this year. One forecast places the student population there over the next five years at over 800; it was built for 450. The new $70 million school will not open until 2025.
Students in Oak Heights, Terrace Park and Hilltop are already filling 13 mobile classrooms among them. A number of other schools are also maxed out. Fifty portable classrooms are located in nine elementary, two middle and two high schools in the district. “This is by far the most portables we’ve ever had,” said district operations manager Matt Finch. There is very little vacant land for new schools—the district has only two plots available—one near Lynnwood High, the other north of Beverly Elementary. Designs to replace or redevelop existing schools will, according to Finch, take into account the need for larger classrooms in the future, although 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 former Woodway Elementary School as a kindergarten center for students from Westgate and Sherwood because there was not enough space in those schools for the kindergartens.
The big question, Finch agreed, is “are we behind” in planning for growth? His answer is “no”. For the moment. “We’re doing pretty well for the next couple of years…we’re doing well and we’ll be able to house the students we plan to have,” Finch said. The district is convening its bail and amenities committee this month to decide on a 2024 levy. That group will study projected student growth and voter sentiment, Finch said, as district officials are beginning “to figure out how to handle this”. He admits that “any future attempt at funding will be a challenge”.
Finch said he’s confident the committee will have the information it needs in time for a 2024 measurement; that they will have city and county data “to understand where they are going.” This data may not provide much reassurance about the challenges facing district schools. Over the next five years, the neighborhood must make way for more than 1,000 students from the apartment wave, and ultimately must provide for 50,000 new residents – and their children – over the next 20 years.
— By Bob Throndsen