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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Back to the Question: What Do We Do With All the Closed Buildings?

The PI had a follow-up closure story on the buildings that will now be closed. Some history:

"The district owns 27 closed school buildings citywide and an assortment of other properties, many for years. Some are leased out to community groups, and four of the district's long-shuttered school buildings are in the process of being purchased, said property manager Ron English. (Here's a link to the Facilities Master Plan with all the properties the district has. See page 39-45 for the chart.)

But of the five buildings closed in 2006 and 2007, only one -- Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Madison Valley -- was declared "surplus," paving the way for it to be sold. On a tiny, 2-acre lot, it's too small to be used by the district in the future, English explained.

Usually, though, the district errs on the side of keeping its buildings, even if they're not immediately needed, he said. It still owns the former McDonald Elementary, a 1913 building near Green Lake that was closed in 1981 -- just in case.

"It's very difficult to predict whether you're going to need a building, and when," English said. "And it's very difficult to acquire new property sites. ... We'll keep anything if we think there's any significant likelihood of it being needed in the future."

I've said this before but keeping this many properties is not what most districts do. It takes time to oversee these things and someone who knows what they are doing (infer what you will into the last part of that statement).

I get that we might need some properties but I'd keep the ones in the best shape and most central locations.

Some good points are raised like:

"Last year, parents urged the district to reopen the Sand Point Elementary building to ease overcrowding in Northeast Seattle schools. What seemed like a simple enough solution, though, was impossible, district officials said; it would cost an estimated $6.8 million and take two to three years to renovate the building and bring it up to current code.

Parent and education blogger Charlie Mas doesn't buy it. "It didn't take them three years to rebuild Garfield (High School), and it's not even going to take them three years to build a new Denny (Middle School), from the ground up," he said.

"If you're never going to reopen a school ... why keep them?"

Sand Point is leased out to North Seattle Community College through June 2009, English said, and money also is a major factor.

Sand Point, which is more than 50 years old, would need significant repairs and updates, and a certificate of occupancy.

"You wouldn't want to put the kids in the building just to get them into the building, you'd want to make it the right building, with the right features that a modern elementary school has," he said."

Well, some parents in overcrowded NE elementaries might disagree. Give them a safe building and to heck with amenities.

Also, I have a document "Property Management Plan: Analysis of Status of Closed School Sites" dated March 16, 2007 (Draft) that I thought was part of the FMP but I cannot find at the FMP website.

Here's some interesting info from the report:

"However, McDonald may be needed as a permanent site for the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center." Interesting. I never heard this before ever and naturally there was no discussion of it during this last closure process.

"Sand Point should be kept as a future interim site. In addition, with substantial excess capacity in the central area of the city, possible future closure of a school in that area could create an interim site, potentially freeing up Sand Point or Cedar Park for surplus status or to meet any unexpected growth. " (italics mine). So the NE had unexpected growth, they need to fill it and yet, despite that, Sand Point was said to be unavailable for use.

Speaking of the Central area, "When a school becomes available, it should be considered as an emergency site, potentially freeing up McDonald for surplus status." So that may mean that TT Minor becomes their "emergency site" and they may lease or sell McDonald.

SW - "Closed schools in the SW area (Fairmount Park, Hughes and Fauntleroy) are not needed to meet future enrollment and can be surplused. "

Heads up for BEX IV candidates - "Five currently open schools are assumed to be renovated before 2030 and expanded to 535 seats each." (The preferred size for elementaries - did you know this?). They are: Bagley, North Beach, Olympic Hills, Rogers and View Ridge. I'm a little mystified to not see Laurelhurst or McGilvra on this list. I know; 2030 seems a long time off but the sentence says "assumed to be renovated" and that means done by 2030.

Other issues:

"Security was beefed up at vacant schools after thieves stripped out copper wiring and caused substantial damage to Viewlands Elementary in Northeast Seattle. And last year, the district spent about $100,000 to maintain the shuttered schools, even hiring a full-time custodian to look after them.

"He's out working with these buildings to clear up graffiti if there is any, to keep the lawn reasonably mowed and the plants trimmed, so the place doesn't take on a rundown condition," English said.

Living near Nova Alternative High School and T.T. Minor Elementary, Mooney worries about crime escalating among Central District teens, property values decreasing and the possibility the historic Mann building could be left empty.

"If you drive down Cherry from 23rd to MLK, there's already four vacant buildings now in four blocks," she said. "I don't want to see that happen to another building in my local community."

Ah yes, blight. We know about that by Roosevelt (but it's not the district's fault at all).

21 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Somebody explain to me how Sand Point can be in good enough condition for the current tenants, but not in good enough condition for Seattle Public School students. Are the current tenants not equally deserving of a safe and sound building?

Someone explain to me how the District can list Sand Point as an interim site in the Facilities Master Plan if it is uninhabitable.

seattle citizen said...

Three is discussion about the use of these buildings as "community schools," a possibility that, perhaps, is lawful under state and/or city code.
The city might be okay with such a thing.
Woulod these be charter schools? Not allowed. But some form of "non-district" use might be allowed, it's possible.
Hmmm.....

Josh Hayes said...

Charlie, what some district person explained to me about this is that once a school building is closed, it cannot be re-opened as a school in SPS unless it has been brought up to code. Apparently existing school buildings which aren't up to code (and that's probably most of them, I'd guess) are "grandfathered in" with respect to this legal requirement.

I guess having someone OTHER than SPS lease the building doesn't trigger that code requirement.

I'm not saying it makes sense. It just appears to be the law (which often makes no sense).

Charlie Mas said...

Josh, that may be the explanation that you got, but it simply isn't credible.

I got an explanation that the buildings need some work that would require permits and that you cannot get the permits until the job includes bringing the whole building up to code. That seems a bit more credible, but I still don't buy the three year time period for the job.

beansa said...

I wonder how cheaply the district would rent out a building for a community school. If it's just going to be sitting there vacant anyway, and having tenants deters vandals, it seems like a good deal for the district even if rent is minimal.

My wheels are turning about starting a co-op free school, and idea that is getting more and more attractive as it seems that AS1 is never going to be as alternative as it was back in the day.

Josh Hayes said...

beansa, isn't there a co-op school in the University Heights building? That's owned by SPS, so they must be paying rent. Anyone here have a contact with that cooperative - or am I hallucinating and there really isn't one there?

AutismMom said...

Josh, there's at least one school at University Heights (K-8, I believe), APL, Academy for Precision Learning. It serves mainly autistic students, but a few typical kids too. There is definitely a preschool, and a ballet academy in the University Heights building. There's at least one playground outside. It is a very beautiful building.

hschinske said...

The list of tenants is at http://www.uhcca.org/tenants.asp. In addition to APL, it includes the Puget Sound Community School (alternative junior high and high school) and the Seattle Area German American School (currently pre-K and kindergarten, but there were plans to expand to higher grade levels last I heard).

Helen Schinske

owlhouse said...

Josh-
The co-ops I know of in Seattle are KapKa, a k-2 near the zoo and University Co-op, a k-5 in the U-district.

PSCS moved from U-Heights to the International District. So maybe there's space now at U-Heights, but I sure hope AS-1 can rebuild/retain its role as a pioneering alternative school within the public system.

dj said...

Beansa, part of the problem is that SPS only wants to do short-term leases, and the folks who naturally are interested in a school property aren't the sort who want in for the short term.

The MLK property (and I'm a Madrona resident, so the possibility of MLK, T.T. Minor, and Nova all existing as empty building is chapping my hide -- I've no interest in my region looking like Detroit) is one that the Bush School is quite interested in. They want to make improvements, however, and don't want to make the improvements and then lose the property. Ergo, why Bush isn't leasing (and the district won't sell).

I've been on the email list for turning MLK into a community center, which is a good idea, but there isn't a plan in place that I've seen, yet. In the meantime, it's been empty since I've lived in Seattle.

AutismMom said...

APL, residents of University Heights, says they have a short term lease, but have been told the district is selling the property. (or may be selling it). It's never sold until it's sold. When that happens, presumably, they are hoping to get a longer term lease.

Jet City mom said...

the Webster building in Ballard is only occupied through 2014- what do we have going in there next?

( and the sale of the Allen building went through I think- didnt they just sell two buildings in Ballard?)

h2o girl said...

Yes, the Allen bldg was sold to long-time tenant the Phinney Ridge Community Center, and the Crown Hill bldg was sold to Small Faces Child Development Center.

It is unbelievable that the district has 27 closed schools still in their possession. Or is it 32 now? I know that it's wise to hang onto several to use as interim sites, and in case they're needed in the future, etc. But 27! For Pete's sake, no one needs 27 extra buildings. They should sell some. They still own the Interlake School that Wallingford Center is in? Crikey, that just seems like they could've made quite a bit of money on that one.

Charlie Mas said...

In cases such as Interlake School or Jefferson or Oak Tree, I think it is better for the District to retain the land and lease it out long term than to sell it.

If the District sells the land the proceeds must go to the capital fund and can only be used for the construction, or, more accurately, reconstruction, of schools.

Better they lease the land - even with redevelopment - so the proceeds go to the operating fund where they can be used to supplement revenues for operating expenses.

TechyMom said...

UW owns a big chunk of land downtown, which is developed and rented, and acts as an endowment. SPS should talk to UW about how this works, and try to emulate it. Perhaps there's someone at UW facilities looking for a new challenge? That's a central office position I could get behind, even if it paid $200K/year. I'm sure a person doing that job well would bring far, far more than that into the district.

h2o girl said...

Aha - that makes sense Charlie. Thanks.

Charlie Mas said...

Just out of curiosity, how many people knew that the land under Jefferson Square in West Seattle is owned by the District and is the site of the former Jefferson Elementary?

How many knew that the Oak Tree Shopping Center on Aurora at about 105th is likewise built on a former school site and on land still owned by the District?

The Distict collects leases for both of these properties.

While I'm happy that community non-profits can get cheap facilities from the District, there can be no doubt that these deeply discounted sales - whether to El Centro de la Raza, The Urban League or the Phinney Neighborhood Association - are all horrendous breaches of the Directors' fiduciary duty to the District and the taxpayers.

So... if the District isn't going to use the Cedar Park school anytime in the next fifteen years or so - or ever - then they should see if there is good money to be made from leasing the space to someone who will redevelop it. Likewise with every other District property.

By the way, in case you're thinking that it's a bad idea to allow the land to be re-developed, let me make two statements in defense of the strategy.

1. School buildings are really a unique architecture, they can't readily be used for other purposes - not residential, office, retail or warehouse. So leaving the building up really restricts the market for the property and income potential.

2. If the District ever needs to take back the property and use it as a school again, they will have to rebuild the school anyway. A price example of this situation is Sand Point.

So, if the District isn't going to need the building for a while I'm totally okay with them tearing it down, building to suit, and collecting on a long-term lease.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, your arguments for tearing down un-used buildings (except, I hope occasional masterpieces, such as the wooden building on Old Hay, etc) are succinct and unarguable.

Very articulate, thank you.

Josh Hayes said...

Thanks for the history, Charlie -- in fact, I live about 200 feet from the old Oak Tree school property, and a long-time neighbor has educated me about its history.

Nowadays, of course, Aurora at 100th Street? Wouldn't want to put a school THERE, at least not on purpose. Although my kids' bus stop is at the SE corner of that property.

seattle citizen said...

Josh,
There is, of course, an active SPS campus a mere ten blocks south of 100th, the Wilson Pacific campus at 90th and Aurora.

This is a HUGE piece of land, and massively underutilized. Whiule I don't see any developers jumping up and down to build, say, an office complex there, due to the "troubles" on the strip between 80th and 90th, this is not such a good location for school use anymore...

Josh Hayes said...

Well, seattle citizen, the district plowed (ahem!) a large amount of money into remaking the very large athletic field at Wilson Pacific -- graded it down to dirt, laid down MORE dirt, seeded it over, and so on -- and now it's a lovely grassy field. A lot of schools use it. Nathan Hale's baseball team uses it, Blanchet uses it for both baseball and football, and so forth.

The buildings are in pretty sorry shape, and they host a grab bag of small-ish programs (including a very popular home-school support office). They also support lots of used needles and condoms, unfortunately, due to the nearby location of the Aurora strip. That's life in the big city, I guess.

BTW, this week's Stranger has a short, not very informative article about school closures and surplused real estate:

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/schools-out/Content?oid=1064902

Mind the wrap.