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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What To Do With the Surplus? (Properties, not Money)

So there were a couple of interesting articles in the PI over the last couple of weeks about the old MLK Elementary building. This one, on Jan. 6th, talked about the building being named as a "surplus" building by the Board which frees it up to take on a different life. From the article:

"Regardless of what the board decides, there's little chance of the 1913 building being reopened as a public school. The brick structure sits on less than 2 acres, far smaller than the district's minimum site size of 4 acres. And demographers don't expect much growth in the neighborhood in coming years, meaning extra school space there is unlikely to be needed.

Still, declaring the property surplus wouldn't automatically mean it will be sold, district spokesman David Tucker said. "All this does is put the property in the position to which it could be considered for lease or sale."

The district has closed more than 30 school sites since 1970 and sold about a dozen of them. Most of the rest are leased to community groups or are used as interim sites for schools whose buildings are undergoing renovations."

But, as the story continues:

"Some people have called to let us know that they'd be interested in the property if and when it becomes available for sale," district facilities manager Fred Stephens said. Most of the offers were from community groups or private schools, he said, though he declined to name them.

Representatives from The Bush School, a private school next to the M.L. King site, are among those who have voiced interest. While they have no solid plans, incorporating the King building into their campus would allow more space for the school's roughly 580 students, Bush spokesman Andrew Sproule said."

And this was the cry during closures, that MLK was being closed so the district could sell the building to The Bush School right behind it.

Then, on Jan. 16th, this story was in the PI about neighbors who want it for a community center.

"For 100 years, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary was not just a school, but also a magnet for a diverse community. Within walkable distance for most residents, it drew them for arts performances, spaghetti dinners, May Day dances, community council meetings and other gatherings. It served as the local polling place during elections, and the place where little kids learned to ride their bikes and teenagers shot hoops.

"I'm just adamant that it be a community center; it already was, it was never just a school," said Adrienne Bailey, who attended the school when it was called Harrison Elementary. "It was always multiracial, and it has always been a hallowed place for kids and families."

Bailey is among the neighbors who last year joined the steering committee for Citizens for a Community Center at MLK, a neighborhood group urging Seattle Public Schools to allow it to lease the building for a variety of mostly nonprofit activities."

This group was recently granted $1M allotment from the state for revitalizing the building.

And so this brings up a difficult choice; what to do with empty buildings? When I was on the CAC, I had the job of reading all the e-mails we received. It was almost split down the middle over selling the buildings for as high a price as we could get versus repurposing them to serve the neighborhoods they sit in.

As I have mentioned previously, the company that guided the CAC expressed surprise over how many excess buildings the district has. Most districts just don't carry around this kind of excess of empty buildings.

The CAICEE group had, as one of their suggestions, that the district have a property manager. (The district currently has one, a district lawyer, but it may be worth it to have someone who has more expertise.) Maybe that would help.

But as we close buildings, we have to remember; the district has to keep them up in some fashion or they become vacant targets and eyesores to a neighborhood.

8 comments:

Eric B said...

I would love the District to rid themselves of the Boren building. Once Sealth is out, all the Middle and High schools in West Seattle will have been rebuilt recently - there shouldn't be a need for it in a long, long time as an interim site. It is an awful building too. I do find it funny that Seattle seems to think it needs interim buildings to put students in during construction. This is a luxury few districts have - I don't understand why it is considered crucial to SPS.

Charlie Mas said...

I would like to see the District make a series of five- ten- and twenty-year projections about which buildings they may need to re-open.

The idea of re-opening Sand Point was raised a number of times during the discussion of capacity management, but the District claimed that it would take years to make the building ready. If it takes years to re-open a building then we should be looking years down the road to determine if we need to.

The District claims that they don't have space at a north-end school for the north-end elementary APP students. They say that while there might be space at B.F. Day right now, that space will be taken up as the north-end student population grows over the coming years. Doesn't that indicate a need to re-open a building, such as Sand Point or McDonald? And if that capacity is going to be needed in a few years then shouldn't we start the work of re-opening the building now?

And what is the meaning of listing Sand Point and McDonald as interim sites in the Facilities Master Plan if they can't really be used as schools?

There is no legitimate reason to retain ownership of these buildings if we never intend to re-open them as schools. And if we don't re-open them as schools when we acknowledge that we need the capacity, that's clear evidence that we will never re-open them as schools, so why keep them?

seattle citizen said...

It would be ironic if we sold the MLK building to Bush: A diminishing number of students in public schools, partly fed by flight to privates, so we sell the public school to a private...

That said, I agree with Charlie that there be long-range planning that analyzes demographic trends into the far future, then cuts the excess. NOt so much to make money, it's a flash in the pan, but to save the cost of maintaing buildings that might never be used again.

On the flip side, the district's statement that it would not consider opening closed buildings seems to ignore the idea of future planning, even current planning, as we have a sudden (unexpected?) bulge in the NE that reopening John Marshall, Macdonald, Sand Point or Lincoln could, perhaps, alleviate...Is it merely a matter of "principal" that they don't consider reopening closed buildings? This doesn't seem like good planning.

Of course, I would like to see this 5,10,20 year demographic study make some assumptions about larger students numbers due to intensive movement towards universal excellence coupled with intensive marketing to draw back those who might go to Bush in the MLK building...

Jacob and Richard Greene said...

FYI, the January 6th story is from 2008 and is probably out of date.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Richard, good catch.

Bush has always been interested in the property, though so whether it was a year ago or not, I'd bet they still want it.

ArchStanton said...

I remember seeing this Bush School newsletter from May 2006 while doing research - it seems pertinent, so I'll post it:

http://www.bush.edu/data/files/MayBulletin1.pdf

Let me add that if SPS is going to keep surplus buildings, they should do a better job of preventing their condition from worsening. I've heard that in the year since Viewlands was closed, vandals have ripped out much of the copper - making it that much more costly to re-open.

I think it would be a shame to sell schools in valuable locations to make a quick buck, especially in a down economy. I think it makes more sense to lease the spaces or use them as community centers until they are needed.

Charlie Mas said...

The District has a strong incentive to lease the buildings.

If the buildings are sold, the proceeds go into the capital budget and can only be spent on building new facilities or making major repairs on existing ones. It cannot be used to close a gap in the operating budget.

If the buildings are leased, however, the lease revenues go into the operating budget. Moreover, they arrive in that budget as discretionary funds, with no restrictions on how they are spent. They are the greenest dollars the District has.

The District's inability to maintain their surplus property or derive market rents from them are the primary reasons that they should engage a professional property manager.

seattle citizen said...

The Bush newsletter indicates that Bush approached T.T. Minor about an interest in continuing the Upper School Tutoring program it had established with MLM...Guess Bush might have to reach out to a third school now to continue this service to the public community.