Thursday, June 19, 2014

Updating: Downtown School for Seattle

Well, this is interesting.  News from the Puget Sound Business Journal.

As you may remember, the former Federal Reserve building - a federal building - was closed years ago.  Under federal law, entities and groups may apply to use the building for public purposes.  The Downtown Association was very interested in the district applying so that downtown would have an elementary school.  It's a good location, near the downtown library. 

District facilities director, Flip Herndon, toured the building with some reps from the DSA earlier this year.  He is decidedly not in favor because of the many issues of getting the building ready (and he already has a lot on his plate).  He believes it might take up to $40M to get it ready and the district only has about $5M.  

He said around 460 kindergarten through fifth graders live within a mile and a half of the former bank branch.

There was a homeless group applying for its use and they had first rights.  Their application was turned down recently.  The district is now next in line.

But, the district only has until July 3rd to apply.  I think they should. 

Ironically, one issue is how "stout" the building is - it's able to withstand an atomic blast.  According to those who have seen it, the building is massive with the entire bottom floor being giant safes.  

The location is good.  (Children live everywhere in downtown, not just by QA and South Lake Union.) 

It's free.  Did I mention, it's free?  And, after 50 years, the district owns the building and the land outright.  What a gift for future generations.  Because if the district - at that point - doesn't want it, they will likely be able to sell it for a big chunk of change.

As for the costs, I suspect that between downtown interests and a possible levy, it could get done.  


Patrick said...

So it's "free" but would cost $40M to get ready? The question with the downtown school continues to be, would it have enough kids going there that cannot be housed in schools the district already has. If there's no shortage of places in schools around downtown, maybe the $40M would look better helping fix crowding in parts of the city that don't have a good alternative.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Patrick, that "shortage" is getting smaller.

You know me - I absolutely realize that the need is great for capital dollars. I'm only putting this out there because this kind of opportunity does not come along very often.

I doubt it will happen as Herndon seems pretty low-energy on it.

Anonymous said...

I work next door to the federal reserve building, and my kid is currently in preschool across the street. I would love a downtown elementary school for her. Don't think just about the kids who live downtown, it would be great for parents who work downtown too.

Working Mom

mirmac1 said...

Can someone tell me what the heck happened with the old school district headquarters on lower QA?

Po3 said...

Why did the organization serving the homeless population get turned down?

Personally I would have a hard time voting for a levy that would only serve 500 kids.

robyn said...

I have been against a downtown school for the reasons mentioned here including many, many more critically important needs, but I am all for this proposal. It should not be up to Flip to decide whether or not we pursue this. The $40M could come from a variety of downtown sources - DBA, Amazon, SLU tech companies, Paul Allen, etc. etc. etc.. It doesn't need to be a levy.

Saying this is only for 500 kids is a myopic view given Melissa's comments about selling it in 50 years. This could be one of the BEST INVESTMENTS ever made by the District. One that could make up for the loss of Queen Anne HS.

The amount of money this property could be worth in 50 years is mind blowing.

As I said, I was completely against this idea, but it MUST be looked at ASAP if for no other reason than it would be a solid investment for SPS.

Anonymous said...

They were turned down for insufficient funding. See Real Change link:


Meg said...

there may be 500 K-5 kids living "downtown."

When I had a look at the downtown association's compilation of kids who live in the "neighborhood," the zone stretched from South Lake Union all the way into the International District.

From what I can tell, families who live downtown appear to be more likely to go private. So it's unclear to me if there are 500 K-5 kids enrolled in SPS in a zone ranging from SLU to the ID OR if the general estimate is that there are 500 kids in that age range living in that zone.

mirmac1 said...

I only see this good for long term investment purposes.

in the near term, I figure nobody's going to cough up the dough except taxpayers

Anonymous said...

Well, I admit this is entirely self-serving but I'm excited by the prospect. I recently had a baby and I'd love to have a public local school when he's ready to start. And maybe it's confirmation bias but I swear I see more and more strollers, toddlers and pregnant women in the downtown/SLU area. Denny Triangle is fixing to blow up as well, with those massive condos. I don't think Bezos/Allen money is entirely out of the question.

-New Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mirimac, it was sold a long time ago.

The article said the government didn't have faith in the homeless group's ability to raise funds for renovation.

Anonymous said...

Great piece of property much of the downtown is owned by the UW the U in UNICO

As for any levy I don't and I won't vote for anymore of that way to fund anything. And don't expect Allen/Bezos to either. We have a regressive tax system to accompany our regressive education sytstem. Or maybe I mean passive aggressive which is so Seattle

- NO Levy

mirmac1 said...

I'd note that the 1.5m area around the Fed bldg. includes Bailey Gatzert, Yesler Terrace, and parts of Cap Hill. I think those (many) families would chose to NOT cross I-5...

Po3 said...

Thanks for the info on the lack of funding.

I do agree that it could be a great long term investment. The district should take the building and rent it out until the deep pockets in this city cough up $40 million.

I am not going to vote for a levy to fund one school, ever. And bet I am in good company.

Patrick said...

How good an investment would it be, really? It's probably a landmarked building already, and if it isn't yet, it will be before 50 years is up. There's no 50-story office tower going up here. So maybe it gets sold for condos or 2nd class office space in 50 years, for which it would need another renovation. If we genuinely need it for a school now, sure, take it. If not, pass.

Anonymous said...

As a downtown parent I hope that SPS takes advantage of this fleeting opportunity. The fact that this opportunity exists at all is a minor miracle that won't be possible to replicate.

-Downtown Dad

Po3 said...

One other issue is will parents be OK with having half their class going to Washington MS and the other half going up to McClure? Because I don't think either one can take an additional 80-100 kids each year so they may have to accept a split.

SPS address assignment locator can show DT parents what MS they are assigned to, betting somewhere in the middle of DT it changes from McCLure to Washington.

Michael said...

Part of having a livable city is having schools. This is a great opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine a school in downtown Seattle,

Just walk two blocks south and pick up some crack, meet a drug addict or disturbed individual right there as they await going to the King county jail right across the street.

I will never vote another levy in for anything here let alone that kind of project.

But the district has the Interagency downtown, one at Boeing field, another in Columbia City, West Seattle, the Orion Center perhaps they could consolidate with little rehab needed since that joint only uses laptops to teach the kids and when they are high on drugs put them in the "safes"

Seriously the money wasted on so many satellite schools and other extraneous stuff that would work and be useful but an elementary school NFW.

- No Thanks

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Thanks, disrespectful words for the educators trying to help kids who have issues in their lives and the kids who are struggling to get back on track.

kellie said...

The capacity issues are increasing annually. Seattle had been growing by 8-10,000 people per year and SPS had been growing by about 1,000 students per year during this time.

The City of Seattle is anticipating that growth within Seattle could double. If that overall acceleration in growth increases the rate of growth in student enrollment. Ouch!

In this environment, any NEW property is a great idea. What is the best use of this property? There is no way to really answer that without a full update to enrollment projections and the expected shortfalls.

An elementary could be a good idea based on expected enrollment. However, as Meg stated based on the report from the Downtown Association, the numbers were heavily massaged to support that idea and those numbers did not support it.

However, maybe this is a great location for World School (I don't know) and that would then mean that TT Minor could easily be used for any elementary growth in the downtown area.

But none of that really matters. Any property is a great idea right now because we are just plain old out of space.

Charlie Mas said...

The District needs space and this building represents space at a bargain basement price.

The $40 million is what it would cost to build a school, so the District is getting the land for free. It's a bargain and they should take it.

Where else can they get additional space?

seattle citizen said...

No Thanks - as if there isn't drug abuse in YOUR neighborhood, high on some hill....

And your proposal for teaching the kids that the dedicated staffs at Interagency teach is....what? You obviously have no clue what those teachers are doing and obviously have little empathy for students in those kids' situations, so I'm not holding my breath that you will suggest some workable solutions.....

Anonymous said...


The World School @ the federal reserve builing idea is interesting. But you know such an idea would be met with the usual "we are too far down the BEXIV road to make such a radical change...and that's not what the voters approved."

Not that the voters approved altering a comprehensive middle school in order to cram in a K-8,on a campus that is already housing two schools, but that' another story.

I'm banking on them making the elementary to high school conversion at TT Minor, only to have to reverse it when they need elementary capacity in the not-so-distant future.

-reality check

Anonymous said...

Would love to see an option school in that space. Downtown workers would flock to a quality option school so close to work--which could help alleviate crowding in other parts of the city. Perhaps one of the somewhat nearby option schools that's in an overcrowded area, like QAE or an international school, could move down there, which would allow their building to be repurposed as a neighborhood school. Both QAE and TOPS have great reputations and would be a big draw.

Is it possble to convert part of the building into a gym? Play space is the one thing that raises a red flag for using the building as an elementary school.

A Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

A parent, yes, you could reconfigure space for a gym. As well, just like NW School, you could likely create a rooftop playground/rec area.

Anonymous said...

Waste of money - $40M for a downtown building when 3 schools are really close and i5 cuts off access. "free" isn't free.

The better question is: if the district suddenly got $40M, how should it prioritize?

1. Wing or 'annex' building at Ingraham for 400 additional high schooler (standalone 2 storey 12 Homeroom simple building + bathrooms) (do not allow Mahlum to get near this -- they don't understand the word simple).

2. Bring back Magnolia to be the new location for Blaine k8 and convert Blain to be a 'small' high school of 1,000.

3. Just the ingraham annex building and magnolia reboot will be $40M, the CB conversion still would need money... But if we somehow had more $, open up Webster in ballard to be a K5, SPS desperately needs to keep pace with Ballard. The Loyal Heights addition won't be enough.

4. See - no money left over for the free building when priorities are taken into account. The triage of the true critical priorities mean that $40M has to address real problems that already exist.

BTW, people may have a baby in a small condo downtown, but, do they stay there? No. It'd one thing to have a 3 year old in 650 sq ft with no yard or nearby park and no safe street to scooter on; but; by the time the kid is 9, or, there are 2 kids that are 9 and 7, PEOPLE LEAVE DOWNTOWN. The district knows this. Hopefully, the downtown association's pressure (eg. Vulcan looking for an amenity) won't make the district do the usual, (eg. ignor the evidence and data) and just cave to loud lobbying from a powerful few who have harnessed a smattering of a few real families living downtown with VERY young kids who think it's a great idea. Seattle is not Manhattan. Families making money from Amazon or the biotech industry will fall out of love with living downtown when they realize their 6 year old daughter has no neighborhood kids to play with ever, and their 9 year old boy can't simply go out the door for a 15 minute bike ride to blow off some energy.

Flip the backwards question - instead of "look, it's free, let's take it and find the $40m" -- to -- "Look, we found $40M , now what horrible problem should we try and solve first efficiently given the multiplicity of real capacity issues we have right now?

Kellie, Meg, what problem would you solve? If you had $40m, what would you do first?

(downtown still wouldn't even make my list after ingraham, magnolia, blaine conversion, Webster... I'd build a new Denny next at the old Denny and let Stealth take over their building to solve high school issues)

$40M priorities

mirmac1 said...

Amen, $40M priorities

Anonymous said...

$40M, Erm, why do the families move away? Perhaps because there's no school and they don't want to pay for the cost of downtown living and a private school to boot?

It's a chicken and egg situation here. And I wouldn't be so quick to assume an inevitable exodus. People do want to live downtown in increasing numbers, with families and without. Not everyone wants the suburbs and an SUV.

-New Mom

Anonymous said...

And what about parents who work downtown? We don't live downtown because we wanted a house and a yard. But we both work downtown and it would be great to have our kid downtown during the day. We can't be the only family with both parents downtown and no one near the neighborhood school.

Working Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sadly, I think this issue is moot given the superintendent situation.

I would urge you to write to Dr. Herndon to ask him to please consider doing this but I can't see this being a priority.

I think in years to come, it will be a missed opportunity.

Jamie said...

Double Amen, $40M priorities. I love those ideas.

joanna said...

Yes, I love the The World School @ the federal reserve building. 1.6 miles is different than a walk zone. TT Minor walk zone has 500 students with 400 students that will have to be bussed somewhere without it. But you know such an idea would be met with the usual "we are too far down the BEXIV road to make such a radical change...and that's not what the voters approved." And also some of the planned funds for the World School are from the State and other sources than BEX. It would be a great location for them with good transit for a secondary population.

joanna said...

Also remember TT Minor is already in good shape for an elementary school and that money along with the grant that the District is hoping to get from the State could be a part of what they needed for this building. This is a great opportunity for a great location for World School.
Few $s would be needed to reopen TT Minor.

joanna said...

I meant to say:
Yes, I love the The World School @ the federal reserve building. 1.6 miles is different than a walk zone. TT Minor walk zone has 500 students with 400 students that will have to be bussed somewhere without it. Yes, I know that there are those who would say, "But you know such an idea would be met with the usual "we are too far down the BEXIV road to make such a radical change...and that's not what the voters approved." Remember some of the planned funds for the World School are from the State and other sources than BEX. In the long run it is cheaper than first destroying TT Minor as an elementary school and then restoring it again. This would be a great location for them with good transit for a secondary population.

Anonymous said...

@new mom

This is not chicken and egg.

Vancouver , Canada has an eminently livable downtown (no guns, socialized medicine for all, etc), and HAS 3 DOWNTOWN SCHOOLS. AND GUESS WHAT? FAMILIES LEAVE!!! They can't keep the kids past age 9 because families can't contain their big kids in small spaces and let their kids roam outside. A 100 sq ft balcony is not outside. This district knows this. This is called data. This is called evidence. Don't override the clear evidence. My bet is you are not an urban planner and are unaware of the peer city experiences.

And between Issaquah and downtown, there are a few other places. Like Beacon Hill, lower Queen Anne, Columbia City or Fremont. Those are not the 'burbs, and they are dense have do have some affordable options.

Kids go to school in their neighborhoods where they live, per the NSAP. Parents may work downtown, but guess what? Parents change jobs. K5 lasts 6 years. Kids don't trail their parents.

So sorry, a downtown school is a ridiculous. 10 URGENT priorities are manifest NOW. And even if we hit those -- we have a $500M backlog to deal with. No contest.

$40M priorities.

Andrea said...

$40M priorities,

I live in a downtown 2 bedroom with my husband and 3 daughters ages 8, 5, and 4. We've been here 4 years and have no plans to leave. My kids all have playmates, many in our own building or in condos and apartments within a 3 block radius. We get outside, a lot! When they need to run off energy we grab their scooters and a ball and head to the park. Last Saturday they were playing basketball with their dad and ran into a kid from the bus who is 11 and whose family also lives downtown. No, they don't get to run outside by themselves but this isn't a bad thing, it just means more time together as a family. When it's rainy,as it often is, we have so many options for activities: science center, aquarium, SAM, central library, and many other places. We love the life we have and of the few things we would change, having a neighborhood school is at the top of our list. I realize city living isn't for everyone, but you can't argue that families aren't here, or that they don't desire to stay. That just isn't the case.

Charlie Mas said...

The appeal of the Federal Reserve Building is that it is an additional property. That is what is so precious about the opportunity.

Additions and remodels at existing sites certainly appear more urgent needs to be addressed by capital funds. But the urgency of the Federal Reserve Building is that it is now or never. We can do the remodels with the next $40 million but we can't do the Federal Building with the next $40 million because the opportunity will have passed.

So let's say that there's $80 million - we do the Federal Reserve Building first to secure the new space, and then we remodel Magnolia and Catherine Blaine.

kellie said...

@ $40M priorities

I strongly disagree with your assessment and I think you have set up a very false premise with regard to $40M.

To be clear, it is not that I do not agree with your list. Your list is really pretty good and I hope that many of those items make it onto the next BTA levy.

However, property is a huge deal. If you read the history of Seattle Schools, the majority of new schools came from donations like this. The majority of current schools were converted property from other government status or donations. We don't have a history of property acquisition and SPS does not seem to be believe they need to be in the property acquisition business.

The land involved in this deal is in a critical location. As I have stated without looking at a fully updated enrollment and capacity utilization picture, it is almost impossible to declare the perfect use. However, something that keeps getting glossed over is that geography is critical to a geographic based enrollment system. As such any property that is the core of the district is a good property.

IMHO, the sale of Queen Anne High School was criminal as the location was critical to geographic system. A property like this begins to fill some geographic holes and again IMHO, filling in the geographic holes is utterly essential for any long term capacity plan to work.

If TT Minor were available as an elementary school, then it is highly unlikely there would be need for a downtown elementary school. However, staff seem determined to convert TT Minor to a high school, which will create the need for a downtown elementary school.

kellie said...

To answer many of the questions about the cost to convert the building. I can't imagine there being a separate levy of any sort for this. Most likely SPS would work with the Seattle delegation to get additional funding in the next budget cycle.

An extraordinary purchase like this is likely be a great opportunity to secure funding for other sources. It is very likely the Downtown Association would help pressure the City and State for extra funds. This would even be a potential funding option for someone like the Gates Foundation.

Regardless, the process would open up the question of how do you pay for things like this and I think that conversation desperately needs to happen.

Anonymous said...

@$40M priorities

“Vancouver , Canada has an eminently livable downtown (no guns, socialized medicine for all, etc), and HAS 3 DOWNTOWN SCHOOLS. AND GUESS WHAT? FAMILIES LEAVE!!! They can't keep the kids past age 9 because families can't contain their big kids in small spaces and let their kids roam outside. A 100 sq ft balcony is not outside. This district knows this. This is called data. This is called evidence. Don't override the clear evidence. My bet is you are not an urban planner and are unaware of the peer city experiences.”

I’m glad you’re willing to consider the data and not override the clear evidence because I just spoke with a Vancouver School Board (VSB) facilities planner about what’s actually happening on the ground. The following bullets summarize her key points.

• District-wide enrollment in Vancouver has been declining.
• Downtown Vancouver is one of the few pockets where the district is experiencing enrollment growth.
• Growth in the downtown core has been significant in the last year.
• Vancouver has two schools that serve K-7 and one that only serves K-3. All three schools are full.
• A third elementary school is being planned on the edge of downtown to serve the growing downtown school age population.

Below are excerpts from an article related to these three downtown schools.

• Elsie Roy Elementary is Located on Drake St in the heart of Yaletown. This new K-7 school (opened in 2004) accommodates 420 students. Even before the first shovel hit the ground in 2003 Elsie Roy was full to capacity forcing the VSBto add four additional classrooms in 2011. 84 preschoolers sought admission to kindergarten in September 2012 with no room for 39 of them. Currently some kids cross bridges to schools in Kitsilano. Another new elementary school is urgently needed to accommodate Yaletown’s exploding population.
• Lord Roberts Elementary on Bidwell St. in the West End, is packed to the gills with 470 students. Classes have spilled over to displace much-needed adult education programs in an adjoining building.
• Lord Roberts Annex on Nelson St. is a small Kindergarten to Grade 3 facility with 147 students. It Is so crowded it’s unable to accommodate some of the overflow from the newer Elsie Roy School.


I’m not suggesting that Vancouver’s situation mirrors ours because each City is unique. It does however show that a nearby city recently built a public school downtown that was full to capacity before the shovel hit the ground. More importantly it points out that Vancouver’s experience should not be used as a reason not to build a school in Downtown Seattle, because the facts show just the opposite.

-Downtown Dad