Monday, December 01, 2014

Laurelhurst Elementary - Too Big for Its Lot

A reader had asked about a zoning variance that the district was asking for at Laurelhurst Elementary.  I was a bit surprised at the answer  - the lot size is smaller than the district thought it was.

Here's what I wrote to the district:

The Laurelhurst blog is reporting this:

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is requesting a zoning departure that, if approved, would permanently increase building lot coverage to up to 45%, significantly above the current limit of 35%, allowing the addition of up to four new portables, resulting in significant loss of playground space at the school.

The DON website says that "the intent of the departure process is to allow for the construction, addition, and/or renovation of schools that do not necessarily meet all of the land use and zoning standards of the surrounding neighborhood."

The information continues:
The land use code contains provisions whereby the Seattle School District can request exemption from the provisions of the land use code. They may request these exemptions or “departures” from many of the provisions of the code. However, the impacts of these exemptions fall disproportionately on those residents who reside or own property closest to the school.

In order to assure that the views of nearby neighbors of the school, and the surrounding community, are given weight in any City decision to allow departures from the zoning, a departure committee is formed primarily from nearby neighbors of the school. The purpose of the committee is to review the departures requested, listen to and solicit the views of their neighbors, and make a recommendation to the Director of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) concerning granting, denying, or conditioning any departures requested.
From SPS Communications (via BEX communications):
Why is SPS asking for this zoning departure?  
Laurelhurst Elementary School currently exceeds the allowable lot coverage.  The City of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools learned of this matter during the summer of 2014 while trying to locate an additional portable on-site.  Seattle Public Schools has submitted an application to the City of Seattle to allow the lot coverage to increase from 35% to 45%. The City of Seattle by code determines the lot coverage percentage increase (from 35% to 45 %) not Seattle Public Schools.
How many portables does Laurelhurst have and why four more?
Laurelhurst Elementary School currently has four portables on-site, increasing the lot coverage to 45% will allow an additional four portables to be placed on the site at some future date.  At this time SPS is placing one additional portable on the site during the summer of 2015.
  I probably should know this right off but I don't recall Laurelhurst being on BEX IV.  Could you clarify this for me?
Laurelhurst is not a major BEX IV project. Capacity (portables), roof and seismic improvements are planned at the school as part of BEX IV levy.


Anonymous said...

Do the children at Laurelhurst school have access to the next door park? There is a large playfield & playground accessible by a pedestrian bridge next to Laurelhurst. I had always imagined that the kids could play there as well, but can see how school rules might forbid it. I am presuming that they would need to be chaperoned on school grounds outside, as well as at the park. Even if there are issues with access, the accessibility is different at Laurelhurst, say, compared to Montlake (where the park/playfield is not close by and requires crossing streets).


Anonymous said...

Laurelhurst -- You are the next Schmitz Park! Meaning, if your neighborhood agrees to the "zoning departure", and, 4 EXTRA portables land there this summer, in addition to the many you already have, then, they will only be followed by more, and you will NEVER get rid of them - any of them!!!

Your 'building core' will be stressed out, like it is in all over-portable schools (not enough bathrooms or cafeteria space to avoid lunch in 3 shifts, not enough art/music pull out space to service all the classrooms, not enough gym time to get all the classrooms though PE... etc.)

The District has a capacity problem in the NE, and your school alone should have not to bare the brunt. Why not Bryant? it is also not allowed to have portables because of lot coverage issues, but, why put all the stress on you? My point: not to sock Bryant, but to highlight the BAD PLANNING. They need to load balance and not slam some schools 'cuz they can'. Viewridge already has about 7 or 8; and John Rogers is now having more and more enrollment from the family-friendly and affordable housing developing in Matthews Beach area and Lake City.

It would be best for the whole system if you said NO!

The "no more than 5% in portables" should apply on a school by school basis, because that is how students experience the stress. Students in Schmitz Park are not okay because Hazel Wolf doesn't have portables. Students do not experience facilites in an "averaged-out way", they only experience one school, so if it is impacted, they suffer. Not by a little bit, not by 5%, but by 100%. Schools like Wedgwood and Schmitz Park and Laurelhurst have portable squatters' villages while other are pristine and don't have a one. Kids in buildings should not have to suffer disproportionately, that is my point. The District must be held accountable to plan better (or, just plan), not react to crises.

Seriously, what are they going to do for Hamilton for Sept. 2016? Emergency carve off? To where, exactly? Why not plan that now. How many portables will Washington get while it awaits Meany's opening? Just tell parents NOW - so they know what is coming, and that is it for 2 years before it gets corrected.

What will you do for west Woodland? And Alki? Beacon Hill? Portables can't be the solution in all instances.

Yeah, and high school north. Can't portable that into a solution, even with Ingraham taking on loads of portables and Lincoln opening. What's the plan?

Laurelhurst, rally to stop those portables. You (nor anyone) should be tipped into being so overtaxed. It is not good for the kids or for educational adequacy or for equity.

Note that a 'downtown' school would help NONE of those problems listed above. Not a one. So, why is Flip even/still talking about it??

Facilities ?Planning?

Greeny said...

It is not good for the kids or for educational adequacy or for equity.

Thank you, @Facilities? Planning?

Anonymous said...

A previous post mentioned growth at John Rogers. Since 2011, enrollment at John Rogers has grown by over 100 kids (over 40%!), and there are currently 5 portables in use.

John Rogers will have a boundary adjustment, shrinking the attendance area (yet again), when Cedar Park opens as a neighborhood school (2017).

The plan for Cedar Park is to cram 8 PERMANENT modular classrooms onto the site, because that is what technically "fits" according to the lot coverage restrictions.

Although opening Cedar Park should provide some relief for John Rogers, Cedar Park is being DESIGNED as a portable village, with a target enrollment of 400. The Cedar Park building was not designed to house that many kids. Therefore, in order to relieve overcrowding at one school (John Rogers), the burden will apparently just be shifted to another school with over-loaded core facilities (Cedar Park).

The addition of 8 modular classrooms at Cedar Park would seem to represent over 40% portable usage at this site, since there are only about 10 or 11 classrooms inside the Cedar Park building (assuming space will be set-aside inside for a library/computer lab). Although, in designating these modular structures as "permanent" SPS probably gets away with not factoring them into the District-wide portable usage equation.

These "modulars" are said to be better than typical portables, because they will not be raised structures, and will have shed, not gable, roof lines, which is more in keeping with the mid-century modern architecture of the main building.

To my knowledge, the modular classrooms will not have running water or bathrooms. So, there will be the same issues faced by schools with typical, though less aesthetically-pleasing, portable villages, such as: insufficient bathroom facilities, small lunchroom and common areas relative to enrollment, the difficulty of conducting science and/or art lessons in a classroom without running water, and poor access to drinking water in the portables.

I know SPS is desperate for additional capacity, but they need to think in terms of how schools actually function and serve their students and communities...not just in terms of how many kids they can cram into a site.

- North-end Mom

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the additional information Melissa.

Joe Wolf mentioned in another thread that the departure committee has voted no to the departure and larger class sizes will result.

If the Laurelhurst school community prefers to preserve outdoor play space, even if there will be large class sizes - then good for them. I'm glad that as a community they were able to make this decision vs. being forced into what someone else thinks is best.