Mayor Buys Downtown School Nonsense

The Seattle Times is reporting that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn wants to offer developers a waiver from height restrictions if they will provide space for a downtown elementary school in South Lake Union.

It's unclear if the offer is good only in South Lake Union or in other parts of downtown.

I don't know who the mayor is talking to, but it isn't anyone who is telling the truth about this.


Benjamin Leis said…
Well this is mostly neutral in my book. I'm not super keen on Mayor McGinn intervening in an area he knows little about but if he managed to wrangle a free building out of Vulcan it wouldn't be so bad for the district. It all depends on what costs/obligations come out of this whole affair.

mirmac1 said…
Great. Why doesn't he impose developer fees to support education where kids actually LIVE? McGinn doesn't want to be less obsequious to business than Burgess.

There I go hatin' again.
Po3 said…
Well, if this is gonna happen it's got to be a K-8 or even a K-12. A K-5is just to shortsided for the long term growth projected in the SLU.

And if they can't fill the school - then they will be forced to change it to an all city draw school. Which I think is a good idea.
mirmac1 said…
Is it going to be a 650 K-5 monolith or "boutique" for a select few? What happened to saving money?
Anonymous said…

The school district has said over and over that transportation costs are high and must be cut. This was the reason to go to NSAP and to create a north/south APP program in elementary and middle school - they say they want to keep kids near where they live. In fact, Jose Banda talked about the high transportation costs this morning when he was on KUOW.

This district can't do all of these changes in order to get kids educated close to where they live and then come in and create an all city draw school. If that's their back up idea (and I haven't seen that it is), I would personally be very angry.

Jan said…
Or, the Vulcan/Amazon folks could donate the space, the District could spend several million setting it up as a neighborhood school and then, regardless of whether it fills, or how it is configured, if 1240 passes, it could convert to a charter school, and all that taxpayer money would pass to -- who knows who? (Oh, and then it would still collect its "pro rata share" of future levy money -- unless under 1240 that money doesn't go to leased space.
Po3 said…
Why can't they create all city draw schools?

Don't we already have them scattered around the city? Nova, Center, Cleveland, TOPS?

Isn't an option school all city draw and if you leave outside of the transportation zone it's up to you to get your student to/from school?

Look...this thing is gonna happen, may as well advocate to the largest space to serve as many students as possible.

A K-5 is shortsided.
Anonymous said…
The vast majority of parents on the BEX committee (FACMAC) do not support this. Is this what it's going to come down to? A campaign of letters from the Chamber people and the Alliance for Education to the mayor and district crying 'wahhhhhhhhhh give us our way' outweighing a year of advisory input from the community? Why even have an advisory committee? What a load.

One Who Was There But Apparently Could Have Better Spent Time Elsewhere
suep. said…
Charlie said... "I don't know who the mayor is talking to, but it isn't anyone who is telling the truth about this."

Probably a similar group to the clique of people he met with to "learn about" charter schools in a secret "briefing" back in February 2011.
TechyMom said…
So, here's a scenario that might make this new school make sense...

What if the downtown school included a really state-of-the-art SPED facility? Lowell is kept open because of it's state-of-1960's-art SPED facility, even though it's falling apart and too close to Stevens. Could Lowell move to the new building? Become a STEM creative approach school like they were trying to in the spring? Be the attendence school for downtown and western cap hill?

Maybe do a land-swap with Vulcan trading the Lowell building for land in SLU, with any profits from developing the Lowell site going back to the district?

I see a lot of upside here, and potential for private donations to pay for pieces of it. Would moving Lowell to the new building make it palatable for people?
Charlie Mas said…
Does it matter if we call the school "Lowell" or "South Lake Union Tech" or "Holiday on Ice"?

It shouldn't.
Anonymous said…

Isn't asking developers to provide a school/school site essentially the same as having them pay impact fees that were calling for just last week?

The Seattle Times article says that there are currently 272 k-5 age students living downtown possibly 470 by 2020. The Downtown Association's projections can't be any worse than SPS'. Sounds like a reasonable sized neighborhood school to me and relieves some pressure on Hay, Lowell, etc.

Just sayin'
Anonymous said…
Too bad, Mayor McGinn didn't stand in front of Bagley, Arbor Heights, or a couple of portables and say all these things about investing in schools (as in the plural vs. the ONE school). He needs to remind himself and us that he IS the mayor of Seattle, and not just SLU or Hansen's arena. It's time the rest of Seattle taxpayers get something back for all their investment (to offset all the tax breaks) to finance, build, maintain SLU, its infrastructure, its park, its trolley, etc. There are greater needs beyond SLU boundary and the Mayor needs to take his cojones and venture out and be OUR mayor for a change.

Voter (who voted for Mayor McGinn)
Anonymous said…
Lowell needs more students, not less. And there's the shuttered Magnolia school sitting on a beautiful site with drop-dead view of downtown. Better do something with it before a developer pays $10,000 for it and build million dollar homes. Oops, did I just let the cat out of the bag! Sorry developers. My bad!

Anonymous said…
McGinn wants to be reelected. McGinn and the downtownies are far from BFFs. McGinn pushes for this, perhaps McGinn wins votes a year from now. That's the silent pact on both sides.

I wish it were more than that, but I doubt it is. I'm not cynical. I'm skeptical. Making a non-priority a priority for political reasons is cynical, and this push for an SLU school in context of overall district needs is indefensible.

uxolo said…
One-third of Seattle's kids are in private schools - that means IF the 272 count is correct (which I doubt highly), you need seats for 180.
TechyMom said…
What you call it doesn't matter, but using the opportunity to upgrade the facilities for the SPED population at Lowell might.
Floor Pie said…
TechyMom, I love that idea.
Anonymous said…
No Techy mom, SPED is not the main reason Lowell is kept open, although it is one reason. The district put an expensive new roof on the place at the same time it was closing schools. Did some other facilities work too. With money invested in the building it does not make fiscal sense to close it.

Lowell Historian

BTW, I do agree it makes sense to fill the empty space at Lowell with downtown kids, who would have to be offered bus transportation even if a school was in South Lake Union due to legal liability in crossing streets.
Patrick said…
If McGinn thinks this is going to win him influence with the big money, he's wrong. They're never going to back him. All this will do is alienate his grassroots supporters.
kellie said…
@ Just Sayin'

"272 k-5 age students living downtown possibly 470 by 2020" means absolutely nothing. Seriously. There is no data in that number.

How is that number calculated? How many of those students are currently enrolled in SPS and at which school? How many are enrolled in private school?

The increase represents a 72% growth in 10 years. What are the assumptions in that number. What would the SPS capture rate be at the higher number?

The question is NOT how many students live there. The question is are any of those students not able to be served in an attendance area school.

Frankly Schmitz Park has that many students in portables. Today. With more to come.

I truly think a downtown school could be "good for Seattle." I would be completely OK if the push for this school were honest.

However, it is just horrible policy to build a brand new school for potential-possible-future students, when there are currently-enrolled-actual students that don't have access to adequate core facilities.
Po3 said…
"However, it is just horrible policy to build a brand new school for potential-possible-future students, when there are currently-enrolled-actual students that don't have access to adequate core facilities."

Totally-completely-agree, which is why we need to get the biggest possible space for the most students and ensure it is an all city draw school to help take the pressure off the over crowded schools.

I think if they did this right (and I know they won't) it could be a world class innovative school that families love to send their kids to. has to be out of the box (not charter) thinking and it needs a lot of committment.

And it just can't be a K-5!
Anonymous said…
I would agree, except that perhaps this is a way for BEX money to be spent on other more pressing issues. Let the developers pay for a new SLU school and a new streetcar or two. What is your problem? It allows Bex money to be focused on real issues. Five more stories of a high end residential tower in exchange for a school seems like a great idea to me. Just don't make taxpayers contribute to it.

Just sayin'
kellie said…
@ Just sayin'

"My problem" is that with the "donated space" the current budgeted cost is $5M for tenant improvements. If the space were truly donated and SPS were simply paying typical operating costs or even maintenance costs, I would say - "It's a win!"

I am not opposed to building a downtown school. However, I do object to prioritizing theoretical students over actual students with limited levy fund.

There are multiple capacity related projects that are not happening because of lack of funds and $5M is still real money.
Anonymous said…
On NPR it sounded like Banda was saying the $5 million was for "developing the idea." I was driving and not concentrating on his words -- anyone else listen and understand it that way?

That sounds like a complete waste of funds. Like many, I think the idea of a downtown school is a good one. Just not an idea SPS can afford right now.
Meg said…
I don't think a downtown school is a terrible idea, but I don't think that it should be getting any money in this BEX.

When I last looked at the downtown association's numbers, they were talking about a "neighborhood" school for a swath of the city that extends from South Lake Union to Georgetown. That's a big piece of geography, when you start talking about the pressure it puts on schools from Hay to Gatzert to Wing Luke.

Buy-in to public schools in that area is significantly lower than the normal. Lowell, which is pretty convenient to the South Lake Union area, is under-enrolled.

If this is truly a priority for the mayor/city, than there should be impact fees to help support the eventual creation of such a school, rather than attempting to shake down the school district for capital funds that won't even cover the most urgent needs, and has school communities playing Whose Building Is More Dangerous/Overcrowded in desperate bids to alleviate all kinds of difficult situations.

I would love to see collaboration and planning between the city and district, that shouldn't be at the expense of current needs of the district's students, and this BEX won't even cover the current needs of the district's current students.
Anonymous said…

I'm absolutely with you on that. Allow the developers to cash in on increased height allowance in exchange for a new school...or maybe a nominal lease, say a dollar or so for guaranteed fifty years or something like that. Then BEX can be used to solve nore pressing issues and SPS has a downtown facility in place before there's a crisis. What a concept!

Maybe the same idea could be utilized as part of the Huning Bros. development in Alaska Junction, though it's probably too late for that.

There should be at least some coordination/communication between the city planning department and SPS...Consideration of schools has to part part of the big planning picture instead of this constant reaction after the fact. It's called "planning department" for a reason.Or not....

Just sayin'
Kate Martin said…
I think a downtown school is a good idea. From a planning perspective there's a chicken and egg problem of having school deserts. Geographic distribution of facilities has merit. I'd suggest creating a community schools campus so that the facility can work day / eve and year round for students and the community. A college campus feeling would be a welcome oasis for education, recreation, enrichment, supports and more. I'm excited about downtown schools, I'd just like to see it shoot a little higher than stop gap and to create a real amenity.
mirmac1 said…
It was city planners, prompted by outside interests and politicians, who've been pushing this white elephant from the start. When the census data and enrollment consultant couldn't justify this boondoggle, the DSA stepped in and became enrollment consultants themselves. Until that point, a school in South Lake Union only appeared as an "amenity" in city planning documents, all on line. Census tract data is also available online. As I mentioned before, the tracts further south have the most students. They gotta go to Georgetown to justify numbers. That's a stretch!
Anonymous said…
Is the thinking too that a downtown school would work for parents who can drop their kid off at a school near their work and then pick them up for the commute home? All in the HOV lane of course

-NE Dad
mirmac1 said…
Yep, that is what was expressed at a Board Work Session on BEX IV. And gotta have Mandarin too.
Anonymous said…
Sure, let's get rid of NSAP and put schools where people work, maybe extend the school days till 6PM and of course we would need early start to accomodate the 7/8AM day of working parents. I LOVE it as long as I can make sure when I work night shifts, I have bus service to get my kids to their schools. The kids are in soccer, swimming, football, track and field and would need some large play fields downtown, near Boeing, and SODO as well. Key Areana would be perfect for our volleyball and basketball practice/games. Can we get that included in the land swap, extended height negotiation as well? I'm sure if we can put up a pre-school -12 campus, large enough to accomodate a couple of thousands kids, we can allleviate the crowded conditions of neighborhood schools. There are SU and UW campus downtown already.

SPS parent

Anonymous said…
It appears that Supt. Banda isn't buying it or did I hear him incorrectly on KUOW yesterday?

kellie said…
Naturally, I completely agree with Meg. I trust Meg's number crunching more than my own.

Her analysis of the "data" from the downtown association is spot on.

Frankly, if this is such a priority item, then the redrawing of SLU neighborhood into the Lowell attendance area should be done immediately. If for no other reason than to say, "We hear you say that John Hay is crowded. Until such time as there is adequate funding for a SLU school (let's call it what it is) we will send you to a school that is not crowded."

Frankly that is a better deal than most neighborhoods have gotten. It is only happenstance that all of APP was moved out. It is appropriate that the district "right size" the Lowell attendance area. In theory, the Lowell attendance area was drawn extra small so that there would be plenty of room for APP. Now that APP is gone, it should already be on the todo list to redraw the attendance area as part of the Program Placement process.

After that happens, there will be real data. There will be a guaranteed assignment at a "good" school in a "good" neighborhood and it will be possible to measure the capture rate.
NE Dad 2 said…
Meg said: "I don't think a downtown school is a terrible idea, but I don't think that it should be getting any money in this BEX."

This is exactly how I feel. We proably will need a downtown school eventually, but if we view SPS infrastructure as an emergency, and do triage, it ends up pretty far down my list.
Unknown said…
As Charlie said elsewhere, would people cut off their nose to spite their face - not vote for BEX because of a downtown school (even $5M)?

It's a worthy question. There has been unhappiness in the past over differing views of what should be on BEX but this is quite different.

It think they lowered the amount because of the outcry and can justify it - in the face of all the need elsewhere - because it's "only" $5M (at least now).

The question isn't really if voting parents will hold their noses and do this but can the district convince an unhappy city (see Pottergate which coincidentally has its trial starting in ...Feb. 2013) to vote for over $1B for SPS.

And will parents hold their noses and vote or hold their noses, vote AND campaign for BEX?

I don't know.
mirmac1 said…
How ironic. From a member of the Seattle Planning Commission herself, who appears to be marketing living downtown, but having a hard time at it....

@SeattleDPD Twitterfeed

In the blogs: Check out "Downtown Families," a blog post by @SeattlePlanCom Commissioner, Sarah Snider:

her website

I see lots photos of urban amenities around the country on her blog, but few shots with children in them...
Charlie Mas said…
The DSA's "study" is a mess. It uses at least a couple different definitions of "downtown" neither of which is very good.

Their census tracts that they count as downtown come within a couple blocks of Lowell and across the street from Bailey-Gatzert. Their other map comes within three blocks of John Hay.

I'm all for judging this idea based on the data, but this data is pretty dirty.
Anonymous said…
I have an idea. SPS already owns a beautiful, brand-spanking-new facility in the downtown area, one that appears to be running under capacity. Why not open a new downtown school in the John Stanford Center? I'm sure the administration won't mind moving into portables. Or we could split the administrators up into two groups and move them into whatever site temporarily has space--we could call them "John Stanford at Lowell" or the like.
mirmac1 said…

I like how you snark, I mean, think. : )
Po3 said…
Where are all the SLU students enrolled currently?
Charlie Mas said…
According to the DSA, there are 272 SPS elementary students living "downtown" and 558 total across all grades. 104 of those 558 live in South Lake Union.

I'm not sure, however, what geographical area the DSA includes in that definition of downtown.

Here's a link to their study
Kate Martin said…
Some facilities do need to go in prematurely in order to not have a school desert which discourages families from living downtown and discourages families that start there, to stay there. It seems odd that we don't have a school downtown. In terms of planning, you need a school and a grocery store and from that you can build a neighborhood. We need to build a neighborhood that is kid and family friendly in downtown.
Charlie Mas said…
There are no grocery stores in Georgetown. What waivers will the mayor grant to incentivize a grocery store in Georgetown?
mirmac1 said…
Yes, and there is no grocery on Delridge. In other depressed areas there are high-priced, low-end stores. Meanwhile Vulcan has Whole Foods. 'nuff said.
Anonymous said…
The Puget Sound Business Journal just came out with a front page article, Educating Downtown Seattle kids. It talks about this issue with a bias towards needing an elementary school. DeBell is quoted, with a comment about possibly reopening shuttered schools in Magnolia or North Queen Anne.

If the Amazon people can drive a tiny bit out of their way, these locations would be a possibility. Magnolia might be a traffic bottleneck, since they are building a mega apartment complex in Interbay. The North Queen Anne site might be interesting, since it would be right next to a future nursing care facility and an SPU performing arts center. Maybe the young kids, college students and seniors could benefit each other. Might be a better place than SLU.

QA resident and parent with a self serving motive
Anonymous said…
I forgot to mention that the North Queen Anne site is next to Rogers Park, which has a playground space and fields. There is a day care there now and it would probably need extensive renovation to suit the folks.

Q.A. parent (of college grads) and resident
Jan said…
Kate: If it is true that we "need" to, prematurely, put a school downtown, to "help that neighborhood grow," how do you prioritize that need with the existing BEX needs for capacity, displaced schools, and schools in as bad repair as the ones that have been discussed?

Why is the District prioritizing the "neighborhood growth" needs of the SLU over finding APP a home, building capacity in neighborhoods that are already housed in portables, and housing programs that have NO facility at all? I don't mean to ask rhetorically -- though my initial impression is -- the three things I mention are uniquely SSD responsibilities. The city isn't ponying up money for them. This is directly, squarely, and solely the obligation of the District.

"Growth of a neighborhood," on the other hand, seems to me to be a city/neighborhood job -- NOT the job of the District. Now, granted, it is nice to be proactive if funds are not desperately needed elsewhere, but if they are -- how does the care and feeding of the SLU neighborhood trump the District's desperate needs for facilities upgrades and capacity expansion in places where kids ALREADY are?
Anonymous said…
Monkey puzzled has the best proposition regarding the downtown school. By far. For the win.

..fix the schools we have!
Jet City mom said…
The accomodation of a semi industrial neighborhood made it more affordable, but our house is about four blocks from an elementary school, and a library, a hospital, a high school, and grocery stores and other shopping are within walking distance, as are a few parks.

However, according to the Seattle Planning commission, our house is not " family" sized, despite that we raised two kids, two cats& a Labrador, here since 1983.

We have families in established neighborhoods whose schools need much more support than what they are getting.

Are we really going to spend time & money trying to attract families to another part of the city that doesn't yet have the amenities families expect, like safe places for kids to play & ride their bikes. Sports fields, playgrounds, kid friendly restaurants & schools, that aren't downtown but are in other neighborhoods like west Seattle or Lake City.

Tell the mayor that when we have fast reliable, affordable & safe public transportation in the downtown core, we'll talk about building a school.
Charlie Mas said…
Just to be clear...

I'm not saying that a downtown elementary school is a bad idea. That's not the question.

The question is whether a downtown elementary school is such an urgent need that we have to do it with BEX IV?

Is it, for example, more urgent than core facilities at Bagley?

Is it more urgent than seismic upgrades at all of the schools that got bumped from the seismic upgrade list?

Is it more urgent than fixing up Schmitz Park or E.C. Hughes for use as an additional site in West Seattle?

Is it more urgent than anything else that was removed from earlier versions of the BEX IV list?
Anonymous said…
There's a bit of desperation in trying to find the number to justify the SLU elementary school proposal. Hence you have one Michael DeBell as head property marketer trying to wrangle the mayor and the Super behind this effort.

It's really about marketing. When you have 50,000 units going up with one park with a playground and another by the water which has more gravel than grass, lots of trendy coffee and ale houses, cute kitschy, and overpriced furniture stores, busy roads like Mercer, it's hard to sell this to families.

This is not Manhattan or even Vancouver. Both cities have large central parks to anchor and provide the green space to reduce the feeling of density, to relax, to play and frolic. Vancouver dedicated its waterfront to parks and trails. The whole city benefits.

Visit Vancouver and walk around one of the denser neighborhoods. There are schools with playground, community centers with ice rink, libraries, and swimming pools, large green spaces to give balance to life/work that all of us need. Do you see that in the SLU planning? No because developers aren't interested in setting aside land, building and providing such amenities from their own pocket book. And we don't have public leaders willing to negotiate and demand better on the behalf of taxpayers.

Unknown said…
In my meeting with the Downtown Assn., they told me one big issue was the lack of playspace. There aren't enough parks (and the ones they do have get some not-so-nice people hanging around, thus discouraging parents with kids).

Again - they need a long-term plan, not a quick feel-good fix. And Charlie's right - priorities should be considered.
Anonymous said…
Rogers Park on north Q.A. is a beautiful and underused area, with playground equipment and a nearby field with running track. It is close to SLU but within a neighborhood setting. The Seattle Public Schools owns property there so space is available.

I do not doubt that there are greater needs elsewhere. But if a location is desired near SLU, it is a good option.

Q.A. parent and resident
Anonymous said…
Nice thought. Lowell would be closer to SLU than Rogers Park. Rogers Park is a park very close to SPU and Nickerson. Love that park and run at the QA Bowl all the time. SPU sold the land to Aegis Living with plan to build a 100 unit Senior Housing there.

I think top of QA has closer parks to SLU area, but none readily accessbile by walking or riding your bike for families with young kids due to hills. You can take public transport, but requires several transfers. At that point, you can look East toward Volunteer Park too for SLU, but really it's in Capital Hill area. There is also Gas Work park in the Fremont area which is flatter for biking to, but must deal with busy Westlake or Dexter.

PS parent
Anonymous said…
Sigh said: "Visit Vancouver and walk around one of the denser neighborhoods...Do you see that in the SLU planning? No because developers aren't interested in setting aside land, building and providing such amenities from their own pocket book. And we don't have public leaders willing to negotiate and demand better on the behalf of taxpayers."

My oldest and his partner would be the potential family/owner who would support this but for now, look at the condo prices/housing prices in SLU. They have. It's not doable. Agreed, there's no sign the developer will is there to make it happen.

A downtown school to serve the non-existent base of students is another scam, another waste of someone else's millions. If Bezos or Gates wants to feature a school, then do it with your own money and make it happen. Then SPS can assess and discuss future partnerships. Until then, there's no justification, although that's never stopped SPS from closing a school, based on their "metrics," only to waste millions reopening it. This is the level of political ill-will we're working with here.

Mr White
Unknown said…
Anonymous said…
Mary G., saw the article as well. The pressure is on for an SLU school. 2,000 kids under the age of 14 downtown. What constitute downtown? Cause you have to draw the boundary wide to get 2,000 kids. And those kids are already in schools.

In all fairness, Seattle Times should provide each Seattle school in need a daily column to ask for BEX money. That way, readers can actually get a sense of what and where the needs beyond downtown (?) and SLU. Other schools have seen tremendous growth with more kids stuffed in portables, yet somehow they don't get a chance to make their case via the ONLY daily newspaper in town. What's with that?

It's interesting, the appeal went to SPS to build the school, not to developers who own the land and are the ones with the MONEY and tax breaks/incentives.

-the price of bacon just went up

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