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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Catching Up on BEX IV

I let too much time go by and I now have to admit I'm just posting info from two BEX meetings from February.

The first one is the BEX Oversight Committee meeting on Feb. 10th.   To note:

-one member said they should - at some point - talk about whether they really need carpeting in schools.   What do you think?  Good, bad, indifferent?

- two guys from the City of Seattle came to talk about the need for an elementary/K-8 at South Lake Union.  They are growing and expect even more families to move in (they spoke of FUN - Family Urban Neighborhoods).

Of course, there are multiple issues here.  One, the district doesn't own any land and even if they did, this wouldn't be high on the capital "to-do" list.  Two, where would the students play?  Apparently, Parks doesn't want more park area to manage.  Three, is it a chicken or egg scenario?  Are there enough kids to open a school or "if you build it, they will come?"  Interestingly, the Pacific Science Center and Cornish have express interest in working with the district on programming.  Arts AND science.  Looks like a STEAM school.

 My thought on this is if Amazon and Vulcan are building big new buildings, give over a couple of floors to a school.  Build it and the district is likely to make it happen.  But I don't see how the district has the resources to give over to this effort without some help from the companies who are asking for it.

Then we were onto BEX IV.  The overview is this:
  • $45-50M to address seismic issues at some schools (but also water lines, security, etc.)
  • $45-65M for technology upgrades
  • some major maintenance (but no figure given) - there is an RCW that allows maintenance to use capital dollars for this
  • $150-200M for other capital work (non-specified)
One new member asked if this was going to clear up the backlogged maintenance.  The answer was, obviously, no.  We are just holding steady with the maintenance but not moving forward much (if any).

They are looking at landing permanent locations for specific schools and programs like Nova, SBOC and APP at Lowell.   They are also looking for equity in program placement.  On that last one, it's kind of at the bottom of the list.  They need to address old buildings and capacity management and permanent locations.  I can't seem them getting much past that.

Lucy Morello, head of Capital projects, said buildings with an overall score of 3.5 or higher are being given priority.

One new BEX member asked about planning and what is the strategy and flexibility for 20 years out?  He was told that anything over 10 years is guesswork.  I'm not sure from a capital view that's entirely true.  He was also told that BEX is more technical and FACMAC is more the planning for the future.  Interesting.

Another BEX member said that it is better to be more flexible with portables than building schools or closing them.  I'm not sure that parents would always agree given how portables take root at many of our schools.

I was given a tour of Arbor Heights and boy, that is not a good building.  In fact, some portables got "built-into" the actual building.  You open a door and it's one weird classroom.  I will be sorely disappointed if Arbor Heights is not on BEX IV.  They are not totally full but I think if they had a better building, it would be and might take the pressure off other buildings.

One member had an thoughtful comment.  He said he could accept the outcomes of the demographer's work but that there is a need to talk about strategy for engaging that demography.  He said that choosing schools based on their facility condition score might be wrong and it might be better to have a flexible plan for educational adequacy.

Then there was the BEX Work Session on Feb. 15th.  But first, here's what was said at a 2009 presentation on BEX IV:

They projected a BEX of between $550-600M.  Today they are talking from $490M-$800M.

They projected 4 elementaries at $66m each for a total of $264M.

They projected 2 middle schools/K-8s, 1 remodel and 1 new for a total of $254M

They had Technology at $60M which is almost the same today.

What's wrong with this picture?  There is too much expensive building.  The district has this idea that everything has to cost a lot and my research says no, you can build a simpler building for less money.  We should be able to do 8 elementaries and 3 middle schools.   The charter 6-12 I visited in San Diego was built for $14M.  Not a thing of beauty and no bells and whistles but they have 800 students.

Also,  Infrastructure is part of any BEX and it includes fields, planning, contingency, etc.  Also, remember, we fund capital project jobs out of BEX and not the General Fund.  I have no idea what happens if a levy/bond fails but apparently many people would be out of a job.

Back to the Work Session.

Michael DeBell came right out and asked about the assumptions they had on one page.  He said that assuming we could (and would) want to run every school at near full bothered him.  He also asked about the growth of high schools north of downtown and the capacity we have for high schools is south.  He got a less-than-satisfactory answer and continued on.  He said we have a localized way to use middle school and then a flat assumption that all high schools will fill 100%.   He wants high school numbers by area of the city.

Kay Smith-Blum expressed concern that there needs to be more balance between educational adequacy and site infrastructure.  She said that schools needed areas where teachers could work collaboratively.

It was also stated that modernization can often cost as much as building a new building.  I am not totally sure how the issue of being an "historic" building plays here.  Meaning, what is historic, who decides and do you have to build to keep that label?  We have painful proof of how expensive it is to build to that measure and I think giving a nod to the legacy of the building is important but we need modern, safe buildings.

So their list (and this is not even a preliminary BEX IV list but just schools with high scores throughout the city (and I only include the schools with the highest scores):
Whitman attendance area - Bagley, Northgate, North Beach, Viewlands, Wilson-Pacific
Eckstein attendance area- Thorton Creek, View Ridge, Olympic Hills, Rogers,
Hamilton attendance area - Laurelhurst
McClure attendance area - none
Madison attendance area - Alki, Lafayette, Schmitz Park
Denny attendance area - Arbor Heights, Roxhill, West Seattle
Washington attendance area - Gatzert, Meany
Mercer attendance area - Mercer
Aki Kurose attendance area - maybe repurpose Van Asselt

And likely, Eckstein or Washington.

As I have said before, capital building is usually evenly spread throughout the city.  I doubt they will be able to do that this time.  The capacity management issue is so pressing, they have to leave it very high on the list.  So don't be upset if the list does not reflect every area.

So if I had to give my educated guess:
  • Arbor Heights (arguably the worst building in the district except maybe Meany)
  • Schmitz Park or Lafayette
  • Rogers or Thorton Creek
  • Bagley or Laurelhurst
  • Eckstein/Washington/Mercer and Wilson-Pacific for a new middle school
  • If they can squeeze those dollars for 2 more elementaries, then View Ridge/Alki/McGilvra/Bailey Gatzert

19 comments:

Eric B said...

Re: carpets: I would say that schools should not have carpets. They should have hard smooth floors that can be easily cleaned with a big dry mop. Some classrooms (eg elementary, especially younger grades) should have an area rug somewhere so that the teacher can do reading time with kids sitting on the floor.

IMHO, carpet is hard to clean well, gets stained easily, wears out faster than sheet floors, and is expensive to replace. In an ideal world, I'd like something like Marmoleum, but a commercial-grade sheet vinyl works, too.

Anonymous said...

Carpet is quickly disgusting and a magnet for dust allergies and nasty pathogens.

How is Montlake not on this list? Isn't it the poster child of "a failing plant"? I always hear the fate of the Montlake plant tied into any discussion of Capitol Hill capacity. Or is the quiet idea that they will build McGilvra big and shutter Montlake afterward?

Does earthquake retrofitting bump ahead of building new plants or remodeling existing ones? If not, why? Seems a liability.

-skeptical-

Jan said...

Melissa: where can we find a list of the schools and their scores? I still don't navigate the new website as well as I did the old one -- but I can't find it anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Lowell at Capitol Hill is just minutes from South Lake Union. I know this because I used to drive through the neighborhood several times a week to get to Lowell (yes, around all that road construction). Since Lowell has room, this should be the attendance area school for South Lake Union. There's a really great school library and many other resources, stolen from the APP community for you to enjoy!

If the five kids living in South Lake Union got a school before north end APP, I would pop. Why are they talking about this.


-former Lowell parent

NorthSeattleParentOfTwo said...

Devils advocate for the STEAM SLUSch :
Does the district no longer own the old Cascade school site? (last I saw it was a storage building - pardon my lack of giveadamn about the SLUT area), the one next to the Cascade park (which was after all the former playfield of that old school)? Storage is cheap - Raze the storage and rebuild a school there. I know SP&R was given the field/playground, but no reason not to use it for a playground again. The area daycares & churches do just that as it is.
Or did SPS sell that building to vulcan?

Parent said...

"former Lowell parent," your comment "There's a really great school library and many other resources, stolen from the APP community for you to enjoy!" is unpleasant. I realize you have had to deal with a difficult situation. But I think that statement is both unpleasant and inaccurate. Any resources in the Lowell building (some that were moveable were moved to Lincoln for the use of students/staff in the APP program; some stayed at Lowell) continue to be used by SPS students and staff. That's what they're for.

Anonymous said...

former lowell parent,

really? 5 kids in south lake union? if you want a feel for how many kids there are and what the need is, then take a look at the John Hay current enrollment and projections. As the current neighborhood assignment school for SLU area, they have 20+ new kids just since January. Most of their classrooms are 30+ kids right now. With the Amazon and other development bringing in families who are used to urban living, that number is only going up.

Lowell on capital hill may be a relief valve option - but please do your homework before you spout off.

And "Parent" is right, your comment about a library being stolen was out of line.

Signed PAL

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jan, I looked and I can't find it either. I'll ask for a link today.

NorthSeattle, I don't see any Cascade building on the property list so I think it's gone. Anyway, my point is that the district does NOT have the money to build a new school for downtown. If this is a major issue for businesses there, THEY should give over the land/area in a building for a school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Skeptical, sorry I miss your questions.

Does seismic bump anything? No, they are two separate projects. The district can't/won't do all buildings needing seismic but it does depend on how bad off a building is.

And you discovered something I missed - Montlake's score (3.38) is higher than McGilvra's (3.23). Why IS McGilvra on the map list and not Montlake?

It's interesting because the preliminary BEX III list DID include both schools.

I suspect it is because Montlake is on such a small site that rebuilding would not add much capacity and that's what it's all about this time. McGilvra does have a bigger site.

The sad thing is that we have poured millions into many buildings that probably should be closed. Of course, it will be worth watching to see what might happen should the enrollment roll back.

dan dempsey said...

It all depends on the acoustics of the room and what one desires as to whether carpets are a good instructional idea.

In 1960 I graduated from a Catholic School with not a carpet in sight except to clean your feet when entering the building. My class sizes were 48 to 50 and the noise level was usually reasonably quiet.

Carpeting was not needed to make the room acoustically acceptable. .....

Today the Catholic School down the street has carpeting everywhere and class sizes below 30.

Think about what kind of activities you think are appropriate for classrooms and the acoustics, before giving the carpeting idea the heave-hoe.

Perhaps when properly cleaned a "dust magnet" might retain the dust until its next cleaning.

Anonymous said...

Won't BEX IV need to provide funds for the permanent STEM school that will be temporarily housed at Boren?

-yumpears

Josh Hayes said...

I'm not clear what gets a school "on the list" -- you report, for instance:

"So their list (and this is not even a preliminary BEX IV list but just schools with high scores throughout the city (and I only include the schools with the highest scores):
Whitman attendance area - Bagley, Northgate, North Beach, Viewlands, Wilson-Pacific
Eckstein attendance area- Thorton Creek, View Ridge, Olympic Hills, Rogers..."


Are these schools that particularly need work? This is astonishing to me - didn't we just get through refurbishing Viewlands so it could re-open, for instance? And (anyone who knows me saw this coming!) what about Pinehurst? The place is a dump -- it's OUR dump, but it's got to be well up in the high 3 range.

Perhaps the boundary nature of the building causes it to fall through the cracks (it used to be, at least, on the border between the North and Northeast clusters, back when we used the cluster model)?

Melissa Westbrook said...

So Josh, it comes in third after TC and VR. They are looking for condition AND capacity and I suspect they believe Pinehurst can't be much bigger.

And yes, we have poured millions into various schools around the district so it is hard to see all that go away if they rebuild. But I may be off on Viewlands because I don't see, from the handouts, exactly why it was on the map list.

Unknown said...

Melissa

Thanks for taking the time to tour Arbor Heights. We sure hope we make the BEX IV list.

-yumpears
The information provided by district is that the STEM school at Boren will be be funded by different pot of money, not BEX IV.

AH mama

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

AH mama - the STEM school is only supposed to be at Boren for two years, I was thinking they would need BEX IV to pay for the permanent building (at an undecided location).

-yumpears

Anonymous said...

Echoing the gratitude of AH Mama for support, I am also excited about the prospects for Arbor Heights Elementary in regards to BEX IV. We decided to forgo the open enrollment process for Option schools in West Seattle in favor of attending our neighborhood school at Arbor Heights. We have one child beginning this Fall in Kindergarten and another who will begin in 2 years.

The title of my mental essay is: Why I Chose to Send My Children to School at "The Dump." :) After losing a little sleep during the decision making process, I ultimately concluded that AH Elementary is a great fit for us. There are good things happening at this school: Dedicated new leadership, strong PTA, a wonderful community of neighbors, and a fresh start in advanced learning opportunities. With the construction of new buildings, AH Elementary will be a stronger school. Hopefully this will happen through BEX IV as we will be spending a lot of time there for the next 7 years.

-Optimistic for AH-

Incoming Parent said...

Here is a link to the 2009 report, not sure if there is a more recent one? http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/facilities/Conditions/2009report/rptSiteAssessmentSummary.pdf?sessionid=34637ba85fa06ba3919623415ae18833

About Thornton Creek, that building is reaaaaalllllyyyyy antiquated-looking (it's not old enough to be historic-cool, just old enough to be old), and is turning into Portable Land. They have so much space there, they could build a really great building that would give the Thornton Creek program the opportunity to become a K-8, or, just to expand to meet demand.

Of the schools we toured in trying to pick a kindergarten, I'd also put Salmon Bay on the list. Gorgeous outside, but horrible 1970's renovation inside makes it a complete dump. It made me think of the horrible things they did to King Street Station that are just now getting undone.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, debating the merits of carpets seems like a distraction.

I think the important question is clarifying the main purpose of BEX IV. Is it to build-out additional capacity in SPS to relieve overcrowding? Or is it to fund the highest priority maintenance projects? Every account I read about BEX IV seems to paint a picture of muddled intentions by SPS.

During discussions of the SPS 2012-2013 transition plan, the Seattle School Board seemed to point at BEX IV as the long(er) term solution for wide-spread capacity management problems. (In part to justify supporting some draconian transition plan measures to relieve overcrowding in the short term.)

But it sounds like BEX IV planning is more focused on building maintenance scores, and much less so on addressing the dire enrollment projections from FACMAC presented in the transition plan meetings.

What problems is BEX IV really meant to solve?