"Schools, parks mull Grand land swap"

"Plans for new public schools next to the Grand Forest have inspired controversy. They may also have generated a solution.Although it has not been formally addressed, local officials are discussing a land swap of the future school site off Mandus Olsen Road with a park district-owned section of the Grand Forest off Miller Road. If the parks department is willing, and the school board is in agreement, the schools and the parks will make a trade, Bainbridge Island School Board President Bruce Weiland said this week. And I think it could be a very good solution to this issue. The advantage would be to preserve the frequently used trails that lead through school-owned property, and instead put two future schools on land closer to main roads - on a parcel and that is actually smaller in acreage. Finding a trade is a solution for this, said Jackie Wood, a Mandus Olson Road resident opposed to school construction in the vicinity of the Grand Forest. But I think it will be difficult to find a site for the school that does not take away from areas of forest that should be preserved.Some neighbors were upset earlier this month, when the school district placed signs on Mandus Olsen Road announcing 38 forested acres as a new school site. Many users apparently had taken the property for granted as part of the Grand Forest, although it was purchased separately by the school district.In a swap, the school property next to the eastern section of the Grand Forest would be exchanged for the parks-owned northwest corner of the forest, which is bordered by Koura and Miller roads.Officials say the idea has merit for several reasons. For one, new schools would be near main roads, on a smaller piece of land. Also, the northwestern section is sparsely populated by wildlife, whereas the eastern piece has been noted as a popular wildlife area. The northwest piece is also more physically divided from the rest of the Grand Forest.But Wood said many believe the Grand Forest and its surrounding areas should all be conserved, and that school planners should look elsewhere for future sites, possibly on Port Blakely's remaining land or at the north end of the island.Countered Weiland, What people do not seem to realize is that the property that is owned by the school district was never recognized as part of the Grand Forest. I personally sympathize with the desire to keep the island as undeveloped as possible, he said, but on the other hand, as part of the school board, we have both the moral and legal obligation to provide students with facilities and use property that has been purchased with voted dollars.In the late 1980s, the state Department of Natural Resources decided that forestry was no longer the highest priority for its Bainbridge holdings, and authorized their sale as transition lands.The park district purchased 240 of the 280 available acres, paying $5.2 million for the value of the real estate and the timber. The school district, which had the first right of refusal on all three sections of property, bought the remaining 40 acres, choosing the Mandus Olson section because it was closer to a residential area - Meadowmeer - and because it had been clearcut seven years before, according to park board Commissioner Ken DeWitt.The school district is not bound by any use restrictions on its property because is not part the Grand Forest, Weiland said. Conversely, the park district is limited by some legal restrictions, which were originally established to protect the Grand Forest. "

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