Friday, February 22, 2013

Downtown School Update

 Councilman (and mayoral candidate) Tim Burgess has a regular newsletter that he sends out. Here's what he has to say about the South Lake Union development and a "public school."

3. Support our public school system.

Two weeks ago, Seattle voters once again demonstrated generous support for public education by renewing two vital levies at a time when more parents are enrolling their children in public school. City government can do more to support the school district by encouraging the development of an elementary school for the growing number of families in the greater downtown area. With this up-zone of South Lake Union, we must craft language that specifies what a developer would need to build for a school (such as space suitable for classrooms, cafeteria and a gymnasium) to earn additional building height.

As with any piece of land use legislation, the details of how we seek to accomplish these policies will be very important. The Council will meet on Monday in City Hall at 2:30 p.m. to discuss these provisions in further detail. But as the Council delves into the complexities of the land use language, I wanted you to know the principles I will follow.

What is interesting is that he doesn't mention Seattle Schools. He says "the school district" almost as he is speaking of some abstract district.

Now the Mayor is saying basically the same thing about what developers need to do to get additional building height and that would include giving over (in some manner, whether free or lease) to provide school space for downtown.

But they really need to get that our district, the Seattle School district, really has NO extra dollars, operational or capital, for this effort. Now yes, there is a phantom $5M for "planning" for a downtown school in the newly-passed BEX IV. It's a big amount just for planning and I suspect that really some of those dollars are going towards realigning some office space to be school space. (This is precisely what happened when they needed to convert the area at Seattle Center that now serves The Center School.)

I don't think that Burgess' words - "developer would need to build for school" means that the developer would pay for it. I'm pretty sure they would balk at that but if they were given funds to rework a set-aside space, they would do that work.

I say "phantom" because it is just a pot of money and the district no more hasto use it for a downtown school than they have to use it for any project.

And naturally, it gets really confusing when, for example, the district said that in BTA III that they were replacing the roof at Eckstein and yet Eckstein is now on the BEX IV list...for roof replacement. (I did try to get an answer to this issue and got a very garbled one that made absolutely no sense.)

Another confusing one is that they have on the John Marshall to-do list, "installation of day care center." Color me confused because as a member of the Closure and Consolidation Committee, I walked John Marshall. They have a very nice, very new daycare center (that wasn't even been fully used). Does that mean in the interim between that visit and today it got torn out? Or, how could it be so rundown that they have to redo it? Hmm.

Now we start to figure out what is REALLY going to happen under BEX IV.


Anonymous said...

From the principal at Stevens Elementary:

"Capacity Update
I wanted to let the community know that we are close to coming up with a solution that doesn’t require a portable at Stevens. Yay! I have met with central district staff and we have been busy talking to the affected people. I want to tell you that the leadership at both Interlaken and Kids Club has been so supportive in helping us work through our different solution and we will be using one of the Kids Club rooms as additional instructional space though not as a classroom space.

I had a chance talk to Phil Brockman briefly yesterday. He felt good about our proposed plan and he assured me that no long term options are off the table. At this point, we have a great short term solution which I hope to share soon and we have some positive movement on some longer term solutions. It is a real relief to know that the central office has been willing to listen and take our ideas into account."

Interlaken Preschool is using a full annex building that was built during the Stevens renovations some years ago -- for before and after school care, as well as a private preschool program (and KidsClub, childcare for Stevens students)


- Curious

Eric B said...

My understanding of the $5M for Downtown is fuzzy, but what I got from a few explanations was that this money would be used for (a) repurposing existing office space and (b) furnishing/outfitting the school. Part (a) would be pretty minimal if the school is built as part of a new building tower, which is what Burgess seemed to be implying. Theoretically, the developer should be supplying SPS with an empty shell of a building. Part (b) would be a lot of stuff: furniture, library and classroom books, computers, PE equipment, etc. Does it include carpeting, paint, etc.? Who knows--that needs to be negotiated by the city as a condition of the permit for more stories on the building. Whether all of that adds up to $5M, I don't know. It may depend on how much of the permit costs and other development cost gets carried by the developer and how much by SPS.

Ann said...
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Charlie Mas said...

Why doesn't Seattle do what other Washington communities do and assess impact fees on developers. Impact fees are the conventional way to require developers to pay part of the costs of the public infrastructure required by their development. Impact fees are used to pay part of the costs of things like sewers, roads, street lights, schools, and parks.

Impact fees would be an ideal way to increase benefits to the public in exchange for value given to the private sector.

Beyond that, I don't understand the impetus for creating a downtown elementary school in South Lake Union. There are 326 empty seats at Lowell Elementary just a six minute drive, about a mile and a half, from Denny Park. There is no shortage of school capacity in the neighborhood. In these times of constrained budgets it makes little sense to squander our precious education dollars on building a school we don't need.

Maureen said...

(I first read this headline as "Downton School Update."! Of course, Sir Robert will have to build a school for little Sybbie and poor fatherless Matthew Jr.!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Downton Abbey reference Maureen—a great chuckle to finish out the day!

Solvay Girl

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Downton Abbey reference Maureen—a great chuckle to finish out the day!

Solvay Girl

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Maureen!

mirmac1 said...

Eric B,

I'm sure $5M is more than the district invested in the K-5 STEM school, but there parents gave much sweat equity, only to be disappointed in district staff's broken promises... Of course the downtown crowd would never suffer the same fate...

Crazy Monkey said...

Please, Charlie, stop lawyering.

Seattle does charge impact fees. Rather onerous ones.

Charlie Mas said...

Funny that I've never seen the school district get any of those impact fees.

Not Laughing Monkey said...


That is most likely correct. The School District does not have the authority to impose or extract impact fees on developers.

I suspect that this is one of the main reasons why there is a proposal to start requiring developers to start providing some benefits to the school district.

I know that some on this blog will probably say that the developers should pay the money to the district and then the district should/could use that money in areas where they need it. But impact fees don't work that way. There must be some relation between the impact fee and the development. Otherwise it's just an arbitrary tax.

Also, impact "fees" are not usually a cash payment from the developer. It is usually some capital improvement or some reservation of lands. A common impact "fee" might be the construction of sidewalks in the area of the development. Another common "fee" could be the installation of new traffic lights or payment for the expansion of area roadways.

Come to think of it, I bet the school district, when it does major remodels or builds new schools, probably has to provide some of these benefits to the city.

So, I would look at the Burgess proposal like this. The city could do nothing. If the school age population in the area grows to the point there there is the need for a new school then the school district can figure out how to make that happen.

Or, the school district can work with Burgess on this proposal in a way that, should the need for a school arise, there is some City-Distict cooperation that benefits the district.

Really, nothing "funny" about this at all.

The only thing "funny" (and it really isn't) is your constant griping and criticism and the suggestion that all the elected officials are fools and stooges of the moneyed interests.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Come to think of it, I bet the school district, when it does major remodels or builds new schools, probably has to provide some of these benefits to the city."

True. My understanding is that the district has to replace any sidewalk it rips up.

I have no problem working with the City but the City seems to be forging ahead WITHOUT really a lot of work with the district. The district, in the end, is the one who will decide when to open a school and no, the developer and the City can't.

Charlie doesn't think all elected officials are fools and stooges of anyone but if you are keeping up, the moneyed interests - Hansen, Allen and Bezos - surely do seem to be getting their way in SLU.

seattle citizen said...

"What is interesting is that he doesn't mention Seattle Schools. He says "the school district" almost as he is speaking of some abstract district."

Maybe the intention is to start a charter school in a South Lake Union building, which wouldn't require SPS at all.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

With KSB as prez, look for the world's biggest k8 EVER at the Wilson Pacific campus.

Yes, BEX IV did specify 2 seperate buildings at WP, one 650 seat elementary and one 1,000 seat middle school, but, KSB wants it to be a 'mega k8', because, she seems to think that would be a great idea. Even if these schools are co-located in one building, as opposed to being one school techincally, parents don't want to see their little kids outnumbered by bigger kids, some of whom are reading the 'Hunger Games', some of whom are experimenting with drugs, and some of who are experimenting with 'other things'. Two seperate buildings is a far more easily-secured scenario which makes for far safer students because security is tough to scale when a school's enrollment balloons up passed 1,650. Keep in mind, elementary kids are really, really little. They do things like get lost occasionally or even get on a wrong bus. A mega school for highschoolers is an entirely different proposition, those students are far more mature, and on the whole can fend for themselves a lot better (on average, anyway, compared to a 6 year old).

Building those Wilson Pacific schools as 'conjoined twins' is not a case of bigger is better. First of all, they wouldn't be any bigger, it is not like they would inflate the ed specs to make more space, they would just join up all of the core spaces together, and secondly, you would have to manage buses and bell times and scheduling of the library and the gym and the shifts of lunches and the assemblies, etc.

K8s definetly have their place in the system, but, by and large, Seattle Families have rejected them and have embraced the comprehensive middle school model: the enrollment numbers speak for themselves. KSB loves K8s, let's hope somehow the idea of making a massive one at WP gets abated.

-standing by helplessly

Anonymous said...

The only thing "funny" (and it really isn't) is your constant griping and criticism and the suggestion that all the elected officials are fools and stooges of the moneyed interests.

Well, they may not all be fools, I'll give you that. But stooges of the moneyed interests? Without question.

Anonymous said...

Re: John Marshall day care center

It occurs to me that they are reworking a lot of that school - including walls and floors - under BEX III. The only part of the building that's really not being touched is the end of the building with the day care center.

This is pure speculation on my part, but if the existing day care center was a limited tenant improvement just for the day care at the time, they might not have made the structural changes for that project that they're making for this current BEX III work. One of the foci of this upcoming round of work at JM is seismic. Let's say that they remodel all but three rooms (including the day care) under BEX III, ignore it for BEX IV because it is relatively new, and then the earthquake hits. SPS would look pretty stupid if the only part of JM to fall was the day care center, especially if they had the chance to mitigate it under BEX IV.

But, like I said, that's pure speculation. I honestly have no idea what the project that put the day care in looked like, but I'm guessing it didn't come with much in the way of seismic improvements.

--Future BF Day Dad