After attending the Wilson-Pacific BEX meeting last night, that slow burn on this project may be the fuse that ignites voters to say no to the next capital levy measure. (That would be BTA IV in Feb. 2016.)
I know. February 2016 seems like a long way off and voters forget, move on, etc.
Except that Wilson-Pacific is an extra-ordinary project that if not done well, could have severe outcomes for the district for BTA IV. Because, by then, this project will be well underway. The project was slated for $110M and - big surprise - is now up to $116M (that's the number I heard tossed out last night).
I would put up highlights from the meeting but there were very few (except for the good humor of BEX spokesman Tom Redman who managed to interject some laughs into the crowd of about 140). Sadly, staff did not seem to anticipate such a crowd and did not have nearly enough chairs out. It's a little thing but it spoke volumes.
- Directors Carr, Martin-Morris and President Peaslee were there. None of them spoke.
- There were no fewer than 17 people included (not including Board members). There was no applause for anyone. It was a ridiculous exercise to have that many people from SPS, plus the architects, construction managers, environmental consultant, transportation consultant, archaeologist, and the consulting architect for the Native American murals. (Yes, I am going to find out how much all these people are getting paid.) Most of these people did not speak. There was no one from Enrollment which seemed like poor planning.
- There is a second meeting for the City's Development Standards Departure Advisory Committee for Wilson-Pacific Elementary and Middle Schools on Wed., May 28th at 6:30 pm at the Seamat Center at W-P. (Details on how to send written comments at the end of this thread.)
- The community around the building has formed a group, Wilson Pacific One Coalition and have retained a lawyer, J. Richard Aramburu, to represent them. Their arguments are that the departures that SPS desires from the City are not merely departures but are substantially beyond that. They have parking, bus zone, height and acreage concerns. (I myself was wondering about the acreage because when I worked on the Facilities Master plan committee, there were specific acreage needs specified and I was not aware that they had changed.) The letter to the City and the district from the lawyer states that Washington State "requirements" are 12 acres for an elementary and 20 for a middle school (W-P is about 17 acres total.)
- Once again - and something needs to change - staff followed their script of Intros, overly-long PowerPoint (which, in this case, was really useless in trying to view drawings of the buildings from the audience), questions on cards, etc. It is a great way to control the meeting but rarely are enough questions heard by the entire group along with answers. The intros and PP took nearly an hour.
- The district thinks the area may need one or more traffic lights but "that's up to the City."
- A question was asked about daylighting Licton Springs and it was noted that this is on the FAQs. What is odd is that they said at the meeting they did not do it because people wanted two buildings. That's not what it says on the FAQ as a reason.
- There was a question about flexibility and capacity and the answer was quite surprising. Apparently they are already planning for portables.
- There was a question about a "buffer from the criminal activity on Aurora." Dr. Herndon gave a reply that could be open to interpretation. He said every middle school has a security resource officer. This is true but the elementary school won't have one. The security officer may ONLY attend to issues directly on school property. If someone is out on the sidewalk, that person would have to call SPD and could not do much. Dr. Herndon should have qualified his answer.
- Someone asked about safety with traffic issues especially in winter. The answer was a bit silly - they looked at traffic analysis collision data. That's great except that the site will have hugely changed so is that data still valid given the changes?
- When Dr. Herndon was asked about the enrollment numbers and APP, he said the district could always identify another elementary to split them off and send them there. Really?
- Kate Martin said she believed there should be one building at Wilson-Pacific and is disappointed in the direction of the design. She and I both stated that we believe the site should have an auditorium (or design to bring one on-board later). I asked why - if community collaboration is an ed spec and this area has no community center - the district didn't both to put in an auditorium.
I don't buy that $12M figure for a minute. Not that it wouldn't cost more but it would not cost that much. And how do I know that? Because that was not the original figure they gave.
- Then we had the curious case of Executive Director for this region, Jon Halfaker, who was Washington Middle School's long-time principal. (I have high regard for Mr. Halfaker as he was assistant principal at Eckstein when my younger son was there.) The question about was about securing the courtyard areas that look like "a security nightmare." This person seemed concerned not about outside people coming in but rather middle schoolers acting out (possibly hidden from view).
And, that in all his time working with these students, he never saw any middle school students fooling around (sexually or otherwise) in these outdoor spaces. He also said that they used these outdoor spaces at Hamilton which could be described "as unsafe at times."
While I respect Halfaker, I also believe that if you give kids enough spaces and not enough supervision, there could be unwanted activity. I also do not believe that Wilson-Pacific and Hamilton's locations are similar so I believe the concern for W-P is warranted. That he did not really acknowledge either thing was curious to me. (He also made the claim that teachers "asked" for outdoor spaces and they would have power and water. A nearby FACMAC member said that was absolutely untrue.)
- Community members seem very upset over the loss of the playfields. My understanding is that the current configuration of the playfields will not be the same as what will exist after the rebuild. This issue is not part of the FAQs and I have to wonder why.
I am going to reprint the comment here from the knowledgeable Kellie LaRue on the current situation:
The more I think about this today, the more I think somebody really need to hit the pause button on this project before more taxpayer dollars are just wasted in the process of committing the final large piece of property in SPS inventory in North Seattle.
The board is convinced that we have to move full speed ahead and that more than enough oversight and due diligence has been done. So presuming that is correct, the what is the issue. I think the issue is "continuity and leadership." This project has suffered significantly from a lack of leadership and continuity.
The original plan essentially did not have a natural constituency as there were no students assigned to the school and only a vague promise that APP at Lincoln might land there. As such the plan developed in a vacuum.
I was on the Wilson Pacific SDAT as well as the Thornton Creek SDAT and I can say that the process was substantially different. The Thornton Creek project had a plethora of invested teachers, staff and neighbors who all contributed significantly. The WP project had minimal attendance, rotating principals, no Executive Director participation, no neighbors, just really the project team.
During the scope of the project, there was a change in the board, the executive Director for the NW changed from Marni Campbell to Jon Halfaker, Flip was hired on long after this project was underway. If I recall correctly, this project started under Susan Enfield. I was at a meeting while Susan was still Superintendant where it was discussed that this was the only property where you could put two buildings. Even the project manager is new this year.
If I am looking at this correctly, I don't know if anyone has been directly involved in this project from the beginning until now.
The BEX Oversight committee's review of this project said, "this design really boxes you in, are you sure you want to do that?"
The parents on the SDAT said repeatedly, this building does not create the experience parents will be expecting.
Multiple principals visited the meeting and gave input and much of that input was highly critical, including one principal who said she would never work in a building designed that way.
Finally in November 2013, there was a constituency voted into the boundaries and at the same meeting the plan was changed and very few parents knew about the change. There certainly was NOT a push notification to all the families in the new boundary to say "Wilson Pacific will be your NEW middle school in 2017"
This project involves not only significantly over $100 Million but it also is putting into service the last piece of significant property owned by the district.
In basic project management, you always want to ask, does this solution solve your problem? I think the lack of continuity at this point, could very well mean that there isn't anyone evaluating this project from the point of view of what is this project supposed to accomplish.
This will wind up being a 100-year campus. The shape and scope of the buildings and the fields will have impacts on north Seattle for decades.
It seems like taking a moment to measure twice and do it as it it was worth doing, matters.
I agree and I believe the district is taking a huge chance with tax dollars and public goodwill.