Friday, August 08, 2014

Updates and Pondering the Issues of Capital Building in Seattle Schools

Went to the BEX Oversight Committee meeting this morning.

In terms of notable people at the meeting, Director Sharon Peaslee was there, Lead Counsel Ron English was not.

Issues mentioned/discussed
- Seems to be some kind of portable placement issue for Blaine and Laurelhurst.  No specifics given.

- Only $1M for technology left in BEX IV.  Head of Technology, Carmen Rahm, gave a presentation where he noted that 75% of SPS schools don't have wireless.  But he repeated, again and again, that for the here and now, you still need "wired" buildings for all kinds of reasons.  Meaning, to have a totally "wireless" building for technology is not the desired outcome.

There was this interesting back-and-forth with Director Peaslee and Mr. Rahm over smartboards.  She was under the impression that they were $10K apiece.  He said no, you could get 5-6 of them for $10K.  I looked this up and it really depends on what you want to spend.  But the total cost - of buying and installing them - is certainly not $2K each.  

Project Updates

- Fairmount Park - being funded with BEX IV and BEX III.  FP was on BEX IV.  But there is no explanation of why money would be used from BEX III.  Are they paying this money back to BEX III just to have money for FP faster or is the FP project overbudget?  The handout appears to say it is on-budget.  This is what I mean about moving capital money around. 

- Mann - no discussion but the handout indicates that the front entry steps are sandstone but need to be replaced. SPS wants concrete, the Landmarks Commission wants sandstone.

- Schmitz Park at Genesee Hill - the MUP (Master Use Permit) has been appealed and it is delaying construction.

Do you ever sit at a meeting and listen to someone and think, "if you had your own words played back to you, are you sure you'd say that?"  

Basically, it was democracy versus expediency (and possibly saving money). 

Here's where that somewhat uncomfortable discussion took place.  One BEX committee member seemed very unhappy that this appeal was happening on this project and, that it happened at the last minute.  Filing at the last minute creates a delay in the project.  (I believe this is Chris Jackins who frequently raises issues around SEPA and MUP.)  The Committee member asked if there was a "regulatory" way to prevent this from happening.

Of course there is but currently, this is the City code.  Don't like for the public to have the ability to raise issues, even at the last minute?  You can take it up with the City Council.

(I note that district staff tried to be very neutral during this discussion but pointed out that, yes, it does cause delays that could cost money.)

I was surprised to hear that district staff had sat down with Jackins and asked him not to file an appeal.

The same Committee member said that if this person was doing this "for every project" (which I don't believe is true), "wouldn't that be grounds for harassment."

Again, no, unless the relevant code says there is some kind of limit to the number of times you can file.  Staff said every piece of property is different.

What was interesting is that staff said there is a lengthy lag between the SEPA and the MUP at the City's end and it was costing time/money.  I'm surprised no one is going to the City and asking how to expedite this (maybe they did and the City just can't go faster).

Arbor Heights- no discussion but the handout said, "Accelerating project to complete Fall 2016 in lieu of Fall 2018 to address capacity concerns."  

Jane Addams Middle School - the handout notes, "Contractor has requested a 31-day time extension pushing date beyond opening of school."  The discussion was around "additional scope" and the contractor has put in claims for that.  The scope is described as "unknown conditions and uncovering mechanical issues."  The contractor is "working overtime and weekends."

Again, something of an uncomfortable discussion over what the historical significance of the building is.  It was odd because it felt like everyone understood the historical significance of Licton Springs but did not feel like the building had any.

Apparently, the district doesn't want to landmark W-P.   The Committee member said, "If you roll over on this one, then you can plan on rolling over on the rest of them.  If you put a plaque in this school, you will have to in all schools."  I can only say that given that most schools are named in honor of someone, this doesn't strike me as a particularly odd request.

The Committee member asked how long the person being honored at been at the school.  The answer was that Robert Eaglestaff was principal for five years before he passed away unexpectedly.  This Committee member just shook his head.  He said that the public relations is the "1% speaking out versus the 99%." 

Director Peaslee, trying to smooth the waters, said that they can name the building after Eaglestaff without agreeing to any historical significance of the building itself.

I note that John Stanford was superintendent for less than five years and they named the district headquarters AND a school after him.  It's not that shocking.

Downtown School
Richard Best, head of Capital Projects, said they had submitted their application to the DOE for the Federal Reserve building and, per Board request, are doing public outreach.  It was stated that 140 people had attended the meeting at Central Library with 75 people going on the tour of the Fed Reserve building afterwards.   They have another meeting on August 12th.

Director Peaslee, clearly not happy, said their Board resolution simply stated their interest but that there would need to be analysis on costs and district capacity needs.  She said she felt the push was "PR pressure."  She said the district may not need a downtown school for 10 years and they have 15 other schools in the pipeline.

Mr. Best said they were looking at costs and other sites.  He said that Bailey-Gatzert, Lowell and Hay could probably add capacity of 660 students.  He said Flip Herndon was clear that there is only $5M in BEX IV to study this issue.  He said any further funding would have to come from the State or future levy measures.  Mr. Best said it would not have impacts for BEX IV or BTA III (but he left out the next BTA which is BTA IV).  Hmm.

Peaslee also worried over this push drawing time and attention away from other projects waiting in the wings.

Best pointed out that even if they are awarded the building, they would only have money for the design, not construction.

 (There are a couple of issues here that I am asking the DOE for clarity one as relates to Best's remarks.

 One is if the district would have to reapply if they changed their application to include other sources of money OR just amend their current application.

The other question is that the wording of the GSA notice is that the building has to be used within three years.  It's not plausible for the district to get the building, redesign it and do the construction in three years (not knowing where the money would come from, to boot).  I'm trying to find out if they could just be in the process of getting the building ready in those three years.)

The DOE did let me know that no other educational entity - such as a charter school group - applied for the building.

A couple of Committee members said they felt it worth exploring but that the district should stay committed to the projects they already have in the hopper.  Another member said that "downtown people" are the best ones to find the money.

And speaking of that, I see that I missed something because the City DID indeed put incentives for developers to the end of having a downtown school.  To whit (bold mine)t:

D. Additional height permitted in the SM 160/85­240 and SM 85­240 zones within the South Lake Union Urban Center

1. Increases in the maximum height limit in the SM 160/85­240 and SM 85­240 zones. In the SM 160/85­240 and SM 85­240 zones in the South Lake Union Urban Center, a structure is allowed additional height of up to 30 percent above the maximum height limit for residential uses, and, in the SM 160/85­240 zone, up to 20 percent above the height limit for nonresidential uses, if all of the following conditions are met:

a. The project includes an elementary school or a kindergarten through eighth grade school operated by the Seattle Public School District that meets the specifications promulgated by the Seattle Public School District, which may include minimum space requirements for academic core functions, child care, administrative offices, a library, maintenance facilities, food service, and specialty instruction space;

b. Prior to issuance of a Master Use Permit, the applicant shall submit a letter to the Director from the Seattle School District indicating that, based on the Master Use Permit plans, the school district has determined that the development could meet the School District's specifications;

c. Prior to issuance of a building permit, the applicant shall submit a written certification by the School District to the Director that the School District's specifications have been met;

d. The amount of floor area allowed to exceed the applicable height limit is equivalent to the amount of enclosed floor area on the lot in school use;

e. The floor area added through the increase in height is subject to the development standards in Sections 23.48.012 and 23.48.013 that apply to structures that exceed the base height for residential use or the applicable podium height for nonresidential uses;

f. The floor area allowed to exceed the maximum residential height limit is not subject to the provisions for gaining extra residential floor area in Chapter 23.58A; should the school use be discontinued, floor area gained through the provisions of this Section 23.48.010 shall be subject to the provisions of Chapter 23.58A; and

g. The allowances for rooftop features in subsection 23.48.010.G shall apply above the structure height permitted under this subsection 23.48.010.D. 

My feeling is that developers/downtown businesses like Amazon and Vulcan are hanging back, hoping that the district does all the heavy lifting.

They might be right if the numbers were truly there to open a school downtown.

They might be right if the district actually had land to develop for a school (technically they do  -at Seattle Center - but it would involved a land swap with the City).

And, they might be right if the cost to renovate the Federal Reserve building was more in the $10-15M range.

But none of those things are true.

So I suspect that if the Federal Reserve building does fall thru, we may see a developer exercise this clause for a school in a new building.  


mirmac1 said...

" Mr. Best said it would not have impacts for BEX IV or BTA III (but he left out the next BTA which is BTA IV). Hmm."

From the documents I reviewed, it is expected to be lumped into BTA IV. Seems they've redefined Buildings, Technology, and Academics again (like when they said MAP could be paid under BTA III). Now it includes "repay loans on political projects".

Anonymous said...

Chris Jackins has filed appeals on both the Arbor Heights and Genesee Hill projects, both seemingly petty. We'd like to get this sites built and not continue to argue about minute, petty issues. The appeal for GH was last Tuesday but I don't know if anyone attended to hear the proceedings. AH is coming up.

West Seattle Dad

Kate said...

Today's NYT real estate section has a piece on development in lower Manhattan. As new apartments and condos open, new schools are also opening there to accommodate families. Seattle needs to figure how to accomplish the same. Does anyone know how NYC is managing this? Impact fees? Since one of these schools is in a Gehry-designed building it seems like there must be some developer fees or givebacks involved.

Anonymous said...

The news about construction extensions at JAMS is troubling. Even more troubling, IMO, is the possibility that these unforeseen issues that are expanding the scope of the project will probably be paid for out of the project contingency budget...which has already been tapped into to pay for the elevator repair/replacement (which, IMO, should have been factored into the project budget from day one, since the elevator has been malfunctioning for years).

I receive an email yesterday about the "revisioning" of 35th Ave NE, which would include rezoning to allow 4-6 story structures at several locations in the Wedgwood neighborhood, with the proposed addition of some 800 residential units along NE 35th.

I wonder if the folks who are planning for this are aware of the school capacity issues in the area? If so, are they banking on the Thornton Creek campus to soak up all the growth?

Lake City is also being "revisioned," with new housing units planned. Ballard is overflowing.

It is time to demand that the City work with SPS to plan for more school capacity WHERE THE KIDS ARE, and to charge the developers impact fees to support the school capacity and infrastructure needs associated with increased housing density!

- North-end Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

NE Mom, your points are good. I have no idea why this city wants growth and density but seems to think developers won't build with impact fees. Sure they will.

As far as growth, we see it nearly everywhere. In my neck of the words, Roosevelt/Ravenna, they are building the light rail station and more condos/apartments. Where will all those kids go? Maybe the new Bagley or fill Green Lake (which does not have much room to expand). Bryant is very full already.

And don't get me started on crowding at Eckstein and then Roosevelt. I've said it before, when they have to divy up who goes to Lincoln versus Roosevelt, that will be some kind of fight.

Ragweed said...


What do you mean when you say the District does not want to landmark the Wilson-Pacific site. The Landmark Preservation Board voted to declare the site a historical landmark. From my understanding, all alterations beyond basic maintenance will need to be approved by the LPB. Did the district seem to think they could disregard the designation? Was the discussion mostly around the naming? Still trying to figure out exactly what the landmark designation means.

Carol Simmons said...


Thank you for asking those questions.
I too am so interested in the answers.
Director Peaslee spoke about the naming. Good for her.
Who in the world is the Staff member who asked about the possible charge of "harassment" against a stakeholder and extremely dedicated citizen. Unbelievable.