What to Do With All That District Property?

Interesting article in the West Seattle Herald about the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association wants to buy the Boren interim building from the district to develop commercially as their "downtown". From the article:

"The group has hired Ron Sher and his real estate development company, Metrovation, to create a conceptual plan for residential and retail to replace Boren. Since January, the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association has made presentations at neighborhood meetings, drumming up support.

Beginning in 1996, the non-profit organization has built nearly 200 units of mixed-use, affordable housing in the Delridge area, including: Vivian McLean Place, above the Delridge Library; the Community Resource Center, housing the West Seattle Food Bank; and Croft Place, townhouses for families who are low income or homeless.

The non-profit bought the old Cooper School, converting a boarded-up brick building into the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, which includes live-in studios for low-income artists."

"The school district is proud of the project at the Cooper School," said Derek Birnie, executive director of the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association. "We would love to continue that at Boren."

Why Boren?

"Since 1987, the Seattle School District has used Louisa Boren Junior High as an interim site. In turn, it housed High Point Elementary, Cooper Elementary, West Seattle High and Madison Middle, while each of its buildings was renovated. Cleveland students recently finished two years there.

Next is Sealth. Ground breaking for the high school - and new buildings for Denny Middle - will start next summer. High school students will move to Boren in September 2008. Middle school students will stay in Denny, moving directly to new buildings after they're completed. Construction could last one or two years.

After Sealth is renovated, the school district has no specific plans for Boren.

Neighbors are tired of the buildings being used as an interim site.

Mike Dady, co-chair of the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, said he met with the principal of Cleveland last year, trying to enlist students to clean up around the school, giving them some ownership of the neighborhood. He failed.

Three neglected houses, since demolished, sat vacant across Delridge Way from the school, attracting students, litter, junk, trespassers and drugs.

"Boren, as an interim site, has been a nightmare," said Dady. "No matter what school they're from, the students don't want to be there. It's not their school."

What does the district say?

"The building is in great shape," said (Eleanor) Trainor (district capital property liasion). "It has served well as an interim site. I imagine it will be retained for several, if not many, years."

For 2007, the King County tax assessor values the 13.85-acre site at $5,428,200, up 80 percent from one year ago. Buildings on the property are valued at $4,464,000.

The school district has begun revising its master facilities plan, gathering feedback from residents and reconsidering use of its buildings.

The School Board votes on the facilities plan this spring and the new plan goes into effect in 2010."

The one comment on the site was this:

" This is a great idea. The Boren school may be useful for the school district, but Mike Dady's comments about its neighborhood impact are dead on. DNDA should let the public know what opportunities exist to tell the school district that Delridge needs its own 'downtown' - and that the district should place the community's welfare above the district's short-term needs. "

So why is this interesting? Well, what is going to happen with district property? The district owns quite a lot like Oak Tree shopping center on Aurora at 100th. And, of course, there are the interim properties, newly-closed properties, and schools in use. The only school - to my knowledge - that they don't own is Center School. (And, if you look at the City's ideas for revamping the Seattle Center - there is no mention of or picturing of Center School in the plans.)

They own a lot of property in prime areas. There are neighborhoods that would love to have a community center. (There had been talk of Hamilton becoming a community center if the original plan of moving Hamilton into Lincoln had occurred.)

This was an yin and yang question during school closures with e-mails coming in saying the district, as a public institution, had an obligation to our city to allow low-cost tenants in closed buildings to help neighborhoods. On the other hand, you had people saying that the district should get every dollar they could out the buildings whether it was selling them or renting them.

I am going to be working on the Facilities Master Plan so if you have any thoughts, comments or ideas, please let me hear them.


Roy Smith said…
The experience of the sale of the Queen Anne High School property and the subsequent struggles over a neighborhood high school for Queen Anne and Magnolia should be enough of a cautionary tale that makes the district very reluctant to sell property. The central problem of any discussion over building a high school for Queen Anne and Magnolia is the fact that land acquisition would be involved and would be horrendously expensive - something that might have been avoided if Queen Anne High School had not been sold.

I don't have a big problem with closing underutilized facilities, but selling land seems to me to be a generally bad idea. If facilities are closed and the district does not have immediate plans for a property, long term leases may make sense as a way to preserve flexibility while covering the carrying costs of property. Selling land eliminates future flexibility, and it may ultimately cost more in the long term when we discover that we need that flexibility.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Melissa, for your attention to this important issue.

It can be tempting to think selling District property is an all-or-nothing proposition. Yet, it need not be. Last year I presented a plan to the Board for developing otherwise challenging perimeters of school sites. In a nutshell, many school sites contain an area that is too steep to use for educational purposes, or for another reason (such as odd shape), the property slice lacks usefulness for buildings, athletics, or other educational use. However, these sites are often valuable for housing construction. My proposal is as follows:

1. In a limited fashion, only for slices of school property otherwise lacking potential educational purpose (e.g. steep slopes, etc), the District can develop the slice of property into housing, with the thought in mind to provide multi-income living areas. Could be public-private partnership. Potentially, teachers could be gven first shot.

2. I also proposed that the District lobby the Legislature to allow proceeds from such sales to benefit the operating rather than capital fund. This is not necessary for the plan to be implemented, but provides more op. revenue, which the District needs. Since state statutes otherwise prevent applying cap. revenues to benefit operating, the Legislature would have to grant permission here.

3. This plan could bring life back to struggling schools, a version of "if you build it, they will come." Architects and planners know that if spaces are engaging and inviting, people congregate. If property slices were developed according to principles of "new urbanism" (google it if you're interested, it's pretty cool), families would perhaps be drawn to the area and to the school to greater degree. See, e.g., New Holly, which has received national recognition for its new urbanist design. Not to mention the benefits of having families living close to schools and watching out for school properties in their backyards.

Bottom line- property would be put to highest and arguably best use without diminishing building capacities or ability of District to respond to enrollment growth. Also, developing community-oriented housing connected to schools might actually draw more families to particular elementaries and SPS as a whole.

Both the Board and the head of Facilities were made aware of this proposal. Facilities said they'd look at this and similar concepts in (this year's) Facilities Review. Melissa, I'm so glad you're involved, and I hope this plan provides some appeal to you and other involved parties. If you want to talk with me further about it, I can be reached at ptaconnects@gmaildotcom.
Eric B said…
I find the comment that the building is in great shape a bit funny. As of a couple of years ago, the Boren building had roughly $9 million in backlogged maintenance. It also has fairly low scores from the Meng report (3.6 overall on a 1-5 scale where 5 is the worst), and is a building capable of handling over 1000 students in an area of excess capacity. Maybe the school district is posturing?
Anonymous said…
similar to ideas presented by "another idea", the CACIEE committee convened several housing, development and real estate experts as a "real estate cubcommittee" during its work and mocked up a number of options for various SPS properties, all of which involved holding the property and developing it for long-term lease - and all with great potential for a stable revenue stream for the district.

The options typically included community use on the ground level subsidized by revenues from residential units above - though the notion of subsidized housing for teachers was also discussed as an option for the space above the ground floor.

Unfortunately, the board wanted nothing to do with the CACIEE committee, its work or its recommendations, since it was "Raj's committee" - and the district staff responsible for real estate was/is in a "not invented here" mode, cherry-picked the concepts and missed the forest for the trees.

That Raj and company never followed up on the recommendations or reported their status to the community makes it difficult to tell from out here what they're doing.

BTW, many will think this subcommittee was a bunch of privateers salivating at the thought of prime district property - not from what I saw. They included leaders from the non-profit housing development world, e.g., Doris Koo, from UW property management, and from commercial real estate developers and managers - most of whom were SPS boosters and parents.

One of the things they recommended was that SPS develop a property management steering committee, like a board - and stick to their core responsibility of education (not amateur real estate management). Interestingly, Harium Martin-Morris said the same thing in a forum the other night - not sure where it was coming from.
Anonymous said…
In case that link didn't work, it's Doris Koo

She's something.
Charlie Mas said…
I find it very hard to believe that the District cannot use Lincoln as the long-term site for a school because it is so precious to the District as an interim site in the north-end, but Boren is not equally precious as an interim site in the south-end.

They have another site in the north-end which can hold 1,000 students, Wilson-Pacific. They will also soon have Marshall (capacity 868) if they can ever find a better location for those programs. There is no other site in the south end that will hold 1,000 students. No other south end building that can house students from a middle or high school needing a temporary location.
Anonymous said…
Boren is not in the south end. It's in West Seattle, separated by Interstate 5 - the two areas are really far apart. I keep reading in this blog that mistake; kids here CANNOT easily go to school there or whatever. the two areas have nothing in common, really, as much as I love West Seattle. (I live in SE Seattle.)
Charlie Mas said…
It isn't that difficult to get to Boren (along Delridge) from SE Seattle. I live on Beacon Hill and I do it all the time.

There are four bridges to choose from: the West Seattle Bridge, the lower bridge, the 1st Avenue bridge, and the South Park bridge.

Cleveland High School - which a Southeast school - is using Boren as an interim site.

When Brighton was under renovation, the school used EC Hughes - in West Seattle - as the interim site.

South Lake High School is now using EC Hughes as an interim site while the District builds them a new school on the Southshore site.

There is no vacant, District owned school building south of the Ship Canal that can hold even 600 students.

You can say that Boren is in West Seatttle instead of South Seattle, but it is the interim site for large South Seattle schools. If Mercer or Aki Kurose are ever rebuilt, that is the building they will use as an interim site.

And that is the point - not whether it is in South Seattle or not. The point is that it is the interim site for South Seattle schools and therefore indispensible.
Anonymous said…
No need to get defensive, Charlie. I'm a lifelong SE Seattle resident, and I'm mildly telling you that folks in Rainier Beach, Seward Park, Lakewood, etc. simply do not regularly shop, send their kids to school, etc. in West Seattle. Just on rare occasions. People are much more inclined to shop in Renton, etc. I've never lived on Beacon Hill, but I know that it's simple to get on the bridge from there. Not from where we sit. No big deal, but it is the reality. Sorry if that seems to bug you.
Charlie Mas said…
Sorry if I'm getting prickly. I see it in myself and I'll try to do better.

I know that Boren and other locations in West Seattle are not convenient for families in the Rainier Valley, Rainier Beach, or Seward Park. When Brighton was under renovation and the school was at E C Hughes only 91 students made the trip. The community begged the District not to use the West Seattle building as an interim site because it is so far from the neighborhood.

The problem, of course, is that there aren't any other buildings.

Now, following the closures, the District has Rainier View and Columbia as potential interim sites for southeast elementary schools under construction. M L King, due to its small size, is of limited use.

South of the Ship Canal and east of the Duwamish the District does not have any available buildings suitable for housing a middle school or a high school. The best choice available is Boren.

So, yeah, it's not great, but we absolutely need to keep it as an interim site. West Seattle and Madison have been rebuilt. Denny and Sealth are on the construction timetable. After they are done, the District won't need an interim site of that size in West Seattle for another fifty years. But if they ever intend to rebuild Beach or Aki Kurose, Boren would be the interim location for those schools during construction.

If the District doesn't need Boren as an interim location, either because Denny will be vacant and available or because Beach and Aki are rebuilt, they could always renovate it (or tear it down and rebuild) to make it suitable for use by Pathfinder.

In either case, they need to keep the property.
Anonymous said…
FYI. Folks in SE Seattle call it RB, not "Beach," when talking about Rainier Beach. Kinda of like saying "Or-E-Gone" rather than Or-E-Gun.
Anonymous said…
Good to know! Is it the central office district folks who coined "Beach"?
Anonymous said…
Is calling it Beach as grating to the natives as "Frisco" is to Bay Area people?
Anonymous said…
Well, I don't know if it's grating, but it does mark you as someone unfamiliar with the school and neighborhood. And goodness, I have no idea who started calling it "Beach." Certainly not anyone from down here.

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