Dear Board Members,
I attended the BEX III meeting today (or rather, the first hour and a half where Denny/Sealth were discussed). There were any number of eye-opening issues raised that you should be aware of in the continuing discussion of Denny/Sealth.
First and probably foremost from the new members' viewpoints is the issue that staff (Don Gilmore) gave a presentation to the BEX III Oversight Committee that had been tweaked and added extra slides that the Board did not see. (Members of the Committee were handed the same presentation you received but the slides presented were different.) There was new information, tweaked information and changed information. For example,
- page 7 -Remodeling Benefits had added benefits to it.
- page 8 - The Summary page was different.
- page 13 - Under Required Improvements under Academic, it was changed from "classroom improvements" to "academic programs"
- page 24 - Option 2, the added budget was put at only $5M and not $5-10M as presented to the Board
- page 25 - Option 3 - had an added red box that I could not read from where I sat but was not on the Board presentation (Mr. Gilmore also said that under Option 3, Denny would incur the costs of moving to Boren but did not explain why)
- in addition, Mr. Gilmore, in referencing option 3 said that Denny would cost $97M and Director de Bell had to remind him that he had told the Board $102M
I'm not going to presume to tell you what to do but if it were me and staff gave a different presentation to another group where they changed figures and added ideas, I would not be happy. You, of all the parties involved, as elected officials, need the most clear and full picture. It was not explained why the presentations were different. Are there substantial differences? You'd have to judge but "classroom improvements" is not the same as an "academic program" and $5M isn't chump change.
Beyond that, there was clear confusion over what the staff was saying. Director de Bell, again as in the Work Session, laid out a thoughtful and careful picture of the concerns such as the academic benefits to co-joining the buildings, the lack of staff buy-in from Sealth, the lack of buy-in from some Sealth students who fear their high school experience will change with the additional of a middle school and that the open choice system would have some effect or could be affected by this plan.
Committee members asked about the community input and were told by staff, as in the Work Session, that this particular project did not have the longer and lengthy input as other projects due to closure and consolidation. The public process was put at about "one month".
One new slide called a Fact Sheet said that the money would divide up as Denny $75M and Sealth $50M which is not how it came across in the Board presentation. It also showed a 29% escalation in costs over the next 3 years which is a figure I have a hard time buying.
Another sheet projected costs for future BEX projects. It was jaw-dropping in two ways. It said that Rainier Beach and Ingraham would be renovated. (As a side note, I asked Facilities last January about renovating all the high schools and they said yes, that was there plan but then, as now, there is no reference to Nova.) The costs they projected on this sheet were $250M EACH. So in less than 25 years, the cost to renovate RBHS and Ingraham will be double AND Sealth won't get renovated for at least 30 years.
Meaning, every other comprehensive high school in Seattle will get a total renovation except Sealth. What they get now will have to last for 25 years at least.
Director de Bell pointed out that normally the staff at a school is very excited about a new project and Sealth's staff is unhappy. He said that Director Stewart had advocated this project and he seemed to suggest that she had community support all around for it. This is likely to have been true because people probably believed Sealth would be getting the West Seattle High School treatment.
One Committee member, Mark Maloy, who works in King County said that it is not all that unusual for projects to be changed and reworked and cited the 9th/Jefferson building. Other members said if anything were changed it should be sooner rather than later.
The head of the Committee, Ed Peters, in discussing the options said that he thought Option 2 HAD been what he was voting for. Clearly, many voters did not clearly understand what they were voting for and whether the District via Schools First told 45,000 households, Seattle is made up of many more than 45,000 households.
There was discussion about the most flexible use you can get from projects. To my mind, two buildings, whether down the street or on the same property are more useful that a co-joined building particularly one that is joined at the cafeteria (in the galleria).
There was also discussion over where the money would come from for Option 2 in order to make Sealth feel they were getting something out of this project. Karin Nyrop said that they could NOT take money from other projects as had been done in BEX II. Mr. Stephens said the Superintendent and CFO had some ideas and were discussing it. Ed Peters said they would want to see the dollar figure first before signing off on Option 2. He said that Option 2 seemed to give the most long-term upgrade for Sealth and would satisfy people's day-to-day satisfaction. Ed Peters said whatever option they did it needed to take care of the needs for Sealth for the next 25 years.
John Palewicz, another Committee member, seemed perplexed by whether the issue was academic co-joining or Sealth not getting a better building. He said that needs to be made clear.
Committee members seemed to agree with Director de Bell that they needed community buy-in from staff and the larger community.
I asked to speak and told them that as co-president of Roosevelt High School I knew that our school had not been designed with many security measures. (Indeed, I spoke briefly with Michael Tolley after the Work Session and he mentioned concerns about Cleveland, another brand-new building, as well.) I said that the galleria was a 250-foot security nightmare that needed to be able to be closed off not only in the middle but at either end as well as the bridge above it. The District has to have safety in mind in these school designs and not leave schools unsecured. Roosevelt is now grappling with how to lock off our gym area during games so people don't freely roam the school. With the project for Denny/Sealth you are creating a community of 2100 students plus staff and, with the galleria, the ability for anyone in a bad mood to easily get from one community to another. I urge you to ask any police officer or district security officer about this issue.
Please feel free to ask Director de Bell about the veracity of any of my statements about what was said at the meeting.
It is clear that this project is a mess. My best guess is that Facilities needed to get Denny redone but had the problem of Sealth's aging boiler and the issue of doing Denny before Sealth with them being down the street from each other were problems. They joined the projects hoping to get enough done at Sealth and hoping no one at Sealth would notice that they were not getting the Roosevelt, Cleveland, Ballard, Garfield, or West Seattle treatment.
There is no clear academic plan for this project, just a vision of a unified curriculum and shared facilities. There is not majority unity from both schools. (No one is looking, as Director Chow said, for 100% buy-in but you risk a lot by going ahead without staff buy-in.) Sealth, in the voters' pamphlet was grouped with Hale as getting a renovation while Rainier Beach and Ingraham were grouped as getting improvements. Anyone would have believed, looking at the work done at high schools renovated in the past, that Sealth would be getting a renovation and not improvements. As I mentioned, a slide was put forth showing that RBHS and Ingraham are planned to be renovated (with Ingraham already having over $26M in renovations from BEX 2 and 3 and Rainier Beach already having renovations of about $7M from Bex 1 and 3) at a cost of $250M each.
How do you think Sealth will feel when they find out they will be, by say, 2025, the only non-renovated high school in the District?
The Committee recommended immediate community engagement in as many ways as possible. Facilities could have avoided this problem by doing the work SOONER and not letting closures sidetrack it. The money lost is their fault because they did not do the front-end work, not because the community is being stubborn. Time is money but you will lose an enormous amount of good will of voters and will leave a bad taste in Sealth's mouth if you proceed without buy-in from the communities involved.