As the district's enrollment slows, the School Board will beef up two high schools to handle the influx of freshmen.

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Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus will be converted to a middle school, the Issaquah School Board decided Wednesday night.

After months of debate and a number of community meetings and public hearings, the board voted unanimously to convert Pacific Cascade into a middle school and use bond money to add classrooms and facilities to accommodate freshmen at Issaquah and Skyline high schools.

This is the third time the board has considered this issue. School Board members said they took their time making this decision because they wanted to make sure they had looked at all the possibilities before they converted a high-performing school.

“Pacific Cascade has performed beautifully,” said Mike Winkler, board member. “This is merely based on the need of the overall district. We’ve had nothing but great comments from the parents who’ve had kids there.”

The board was looking at how to deal with overcrowded middle schools, budget problems and recent projections that show enrollment will flatten out over the next five years, reducing the need for new school buildings.

The district had planned to convert Pacific Cascade to a middle school after using it as a freshman campus for eight to 10 years. Converting it earlier — this is its second year — and not building a middle school would save the district $750,000 annually, the cost of operating a school.

With the board’s decision, the freshman campus will become a middle school by fall 2009. That same year, work will be completed in rebuilding Issaquah High School and remodeling Skyline High School. After the work is complete, those high schools will increase capacity to about 1,850 students each, enough to accommodate ninth-graders and potential growth.

Work on the high schools will be funded by the $242 million construction bond voters approved last February. Part of the bond was originally intended to build a fifth middle school.

The district also will consider purchasing land in the Issaquah Highlands area, which it could bank for the next five years or longer in case it is needed for future schools. The district has a letter of intent to purchase land in that area for $15.6 million, but under that agreement it must build by 2009. The district has 60 days to do a feasibility study and decide whether to back out of the deal, said Jan Woldseth, president of the school board.

During Tuesday’s two-hour hearing on this issue, the board heard from about 30 people, including school principals, district staff members, PTSA members and parents.

Most people spoke in favor of converting the freshman campus into a middle school as a way to save money and preserve school programs throughout the district.

Three people who spoke Tuesday said they were against using the bond dollars to rebuild and remodel the high schools, district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said. Four others said they didn’t think the school district should build another middle school, but they also were against converting the freshman campus into a middle school. They wanted the district to come up with a different solution that would keep Pacific Cascade intact.

“I heard people say they were concerned around middle school overcrowding and the impacts on our operating budget,” Woldseth said. “I’m also concerned about building something that’s not necessary, given projections.”

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com