A look at the flooding of the field at Mill Creek Middle School, 620 Central Ave. N., in Kent. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

A look at the flooding of the field at Mill Creek Middle School, 620 Central Ave. N., in Kent. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent seeks federal funds for Mill Creek Middle School project

Estimated cost of $20 million to resolve flooding issues

Leaders of the Kent School District, with assistance from the city of Kent, are applying for federal funding in an effort to help pay for a roughly estimated $20 million project to lessen the impact of flooding at Mill Creek Middle School.

“This is an expensive project,” said Pat Fitzpatrick, city chief administrative officer, during a joint meeting earlier this year of city and school district officials to discuss the issue. “We are talking big money.”

The high cost led to the decision to pursue federal grants or appropriations.

“It might take a couple of years to get that funding,” Fitzpatrick said.

The city will spend an estimated $4.5 million (the bid will soon be awarded) to dredge Mill Creek, with work starting this summer, according to an email from Chad Bieren, city Public Works director. That cost will be covered by the city’s storm regular drainage utility fees, a monthly fee of $15.42 for single-family residents. Multifamily and commercial properties pay higher rates based on impervious surfaces, concrete driveways, parking lots and other factors.

The dredging project will help, but won’t stop the flooding that covers athletic fields and sidewalks at Mill Creek Middle School, 620 Central Ave. N.

“(But) without the work in the creek, we can’t move forward with improvements at the middle school,” Bieren said.

City and school district officials started to seriously address the flooding problem after Mill Creek families, students and staff complained last fall at City Council and Kent School Board meetings.

“The superintendent, deputy superintendent and the mayor and I started to meet at least on a monthly basis not long after that council meeting to see what we can do,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s been a problem for decades at this site, so we decided to get together to make movement on this issue.”

Bieren said about three to six times a year, depending on the rainstorms, flooding impacts school routes and use of fields.

Because the school is in a federally designated floodplain, improvements to the property will trigger expensive federally-required floodwater and stormwater mitigation measures, according to city documents. With the assistance of the city, the school district will submit a request to Congress to fund capital improvements.

“Both the City of Kent and Kent School District retained civil engineering expertise to identify and assess mitigation measures while ensuring infrastructure investments also enable opportunity for the surrounding neighborhood of small businesses and community based organizations to improve the quality of life in this dense urban core which has seen major federal transit investments in commuter rail and bus rapid transit,” according to a federal grant request document provided by the city.

An initial concept would redevelop and raise the athletic field, sidewalks and trails around the school to provide additional flood and stormwater storage for the neighborhood. The stormwater vaults might go under a new parking lot.

Bill Ellis, city economic development manager, said at the meeting that the groundwater level in the area is so high, water cannot all be stored underground, so the parking lots would be moved to make space for floodwater vaulting.

“It impacts parking and buses and there’s a lot of things to come, a lot of work to come,” said Ellis, who added public participation will play a key role in any future decisions. “We’re excited at this early stage to see a light at the end of tunnel, with how we store water within this area.”

Ellis said the project would include equity benefits, ecological benefits, health benefits and economic development benefits. Nearby businesses could expand if new flood storage facilities are available.

“The (school) district will be on point for determining the final design and amenities for its property and the project,” Fitzpatrick said. “The final decisions regarding design and amenities will be what determines cost.”

Kent Mayor Dana Ralph expressed hope at the joint city/school district meeting about acquiring federal funds for the project based on meetings with Congressional representatives.

“I’ve been extremely pleased and hopeful with the interest of our federal delegation in this project,” said Ralph, who added the city’s federal lobbyist will work to gather support for the funding.

Ralph said design engineers highlighted what is possible to solve the flooding.

“It’s expensive, but there’s hope and opportunity here,” Ralph said. “We need to continue work with our federal delegation. We are seeing more money coming out of D.C. than probably in our lifetime, so there’s no reason not to get money.”

In the document for federal funds, city and school district officials emphasized the more than 800 students at Mill Creek Middle School are the most diverse sixth to eighth graders in the region. They also pointed out that students come from an area federally identified as disadvantaged and environmentally burdened, and are further negatively impacted by substandard school conditions.

“We are seeking an investment in our most underserved middle school so our students have safer experiences commuting and can focus on learning,” according to the document. “Most importantly, they deserve an elevated playing field to allow them access to physical fitness education and to participate in athletics at a level equal to their peers in the region.”

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