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Residents say a middle school on Dollar Street in south West Linn would worsen area traffic

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Officials from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District update community members on plans to build a middle school on Dollar Street during a meeting of the Willamette Neighborhood Association. More than 120 West Linn residents packed the West Linn police station community room Wednesday, Jan. 8, to hear about the West Linn-Wilsonville School District's plans to build a middle school on Dollar Street.

The Willamette Neighborhood Association invited district officials to attend its January meeting to present information on the project and hear questions from community members.

While the project is part of the 2019 capital bond that passed with 61% of the vote in November, many of those in attendance expressed opposition to the idea of a middle school at Dollar Street.

One member of the NA suggested this could be because the district did not publicize the bond vote well enough to the community. According to Clackamas County, voter turnout for November's bond was 41.66%.

While much of the information about the bond spread through school channels (flyers sent home with students, emails to parents through Listserve, etc.), the district also hosted a community bond summit with West Linn and Wilsonville leaders and citizens and paid for advertisements in local news sources.

The premise of the controversial project is to accommodate the predicted growth at district middle and high schools. It proposes retrofitting Athey Creek Middle School as a new, expanded version of Arts and Technology High School, and building the new middle school on Dollar Street to replace Athey Creek.

The new Arts Tech would accommodate up to 500 students, as opposed to the 100 it currently holds at its Wilsonville location, and the new Dollar Street school would have capacity for around 800 students, 100 more than Athey Creek's current capacity.

Based on a comprehensive analysis of new residential development, the district predicts that in just three years, its middle schools will be over capacity and its high schools will be far over capacity.

By 2028, middle schools would be over capacity by 213 students and high schools would be over capacity by 705 students, according to data provided in the district's Long Range Plan.

However, some people at the meeting questioned the district's growth projections.

One woman surmised that in several years, there will not be as many middle school-age kids in West Linn because most new families cannot afford to live there.

WL-WV Superintendent Kathy Ludwig explained that though West Linn's growth is quite different from Wilsonville's, where large residential developments are planned, each small new development in West Linn adds up, contributing to West Linn's overall growth.

According to the district, West Linn High School and is already over capacity and Athey Creek and Wilsonville High are nearing icapacity. Allowing for a larger Art Tech will help alleviate some of the overcrowding at the high schools, the district hopes. Art Tech will also need a new home after 2022 when the lease in Wilsonville expires.

Ludwig said that the district, as well as students and parents, would prefer Athey Creek as the new site for Art Tech because it is more centrally located between West Linn and Wilsonville.

Many at the meeting were also concerned about the impact a Dollar Street school would have on, what they say are already poor traffic conditions on Willamette Falls Drive.

District officials said that throughout the planning process, traffic engineers will learn more about the potential impacts and then determine the best ways to mitigate them. These are the sort of details the City of West Linn will consider when determining whether to approve the land-use application for the school.

According to Ludwig, the district is still very early in the planning process and in the midst of hiring architecture and construction management firms. She said the plan also includes hiring a land-use planner who will analyze the property and surrounding neighborhoods.

Some in attendance at Wednesday's meeting thought building a middle school on the Dollar Street property wasn't feasible given the property's topography. The property is neither wide enough nor flat enough, they said.

A petition opposing the Dollar Street school, which was presented to the district at the meeting, mentions a 1994 proposal from the school district to build a school on the property, which was turned down by the City.

Ludwig pointed out that the 1994 land-use permit was denied not because a school wasn't feasible on the property, but because the Rosemont Ridge property was more suitable for a second middle school.

Again, the district made it clear that the architects and land-use planners would need to prove that building a middle school on the site is feasible before the City would grant the land-use permits.

Ludwig assured those at the meeting that the community would be involved throughout the planning process.

"The history and legacy of the district is to be good neighbors and thoughtful neighbors," she said.

The district has owned the 22 acres on Dollar Street, known to neighbors as the Dollar Street Woods, for over 25 years. Several people at the meeting wanted to know other locations the district had considered for the new middle school.

Ludwig said the only other land the district owns in West Linn is about 10 acres near Oppenlander. This lot was not large enough for a middle school, which requires about 20 acres, she said, and was too close to Rosemont Ridge Middle School.

The district has scoured West Linn for other land, but 20 continuous acres of land suitable for a school is impossible to find, according to Ludwig.

She also explained that the money from this bond could not be used to purchase other properties because it can only be used for projects presented to voters in November.

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