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School plans irk Grand Forest neighbors

"Are they building a school in the Grand Forest?Not exactly. But two of the island's next three public schools will probably be right next door.We love the trails, we love the trees, said Bruce Weiland, Bainbridge Island School Board president. But as kids come (to the island), we've got to have schools for them.Weiland said the school district office has received a number of calls over the past week, since signs were posted announcing a future school site in a wooded area off Mandus Olsen Road, south of Koura Road.Our whole neighborhood is kind of upset, said Jackie Wood, a Mandus Olsen Road resident who was surprised by the signs' sudden appearance.Your tax dollars at work - what an insult, she added.The district purchased the 37.7-acre parcel - which abuts on two sides the eastern portion of the Grand Forest - from the state Department of Natural Resources in 1992, for a price quoted on the deed as $600,000. Funding came from a capital bond levy approved by voters, with the site earmarked for two schools.At about the same time, the park district purchased another 240 acres from the DNR, some of it contiguous with the school land, as open space.Weiland allows that there have been no clear boundary markers where the park district and school district properties meet, and that the school land is criss-crossed with popular hiking trails. That apparently has led many islanders to assume that school district's corner of the property is also part of the Grand Forest. Not so, Weiland said.We really wanted to remind people who never knew, or who forgot, that this was purchased with public money for a school, he said. And so, up went the signs.Rapid development on Bainbridge led to the construction of two new schools, Woodward and Sakai, over the past decade. With the growth of the local school-age population averaging about 3 percent per year, at least one more school is expected to go up in the next 10 years.In fact, another school construction levy could be on the ballot as early as 2002, Weiland said, although district growth tailed off a bit this past year.The school board will devote the coming year to an in-depth look at capital needs, including school buildings, he said.But neighbors are also concerned because school construction would bring the likelihood that Mandus Olsen Road, now a rural-looking spur that peters into a winding gravel track next to the forest parcels, will be widened and paved from New Brooklyn to Koura roads.The area is the site of a large quarterhorse farm, and at least half a dozen other property owners keep horses.Connecting and improving Mandus Olsen Road would devastate the rural nature of the neighborhood, Wood said.Development of the school site is not imminent, as there's another site generally believed to be in line ahead of the Mandus Olsen property - off Sands Road, south of New Brooklyn. Weiland noted that the DNR land had been held in trust by the state for a century, for the purpose of providing school funding through its sale. Instead, it became a school site itself through its purchase by the Bainbridge district. We buy property now, because we know it won't be available 20 years from now, Weiland said."

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