Downtown Seattle Association Has a Great Idea for Where to Put a School

Update: according to the Times some non-profits are already circling the building but I suspect that if the district got an application together, they might move up that list given they are a public entity.

Apparently, though, (and this is just what I thought the district would say), the Times is reporting Flip Herndon as saying that it would take a lot of work as a school and at what cost.   He's right as the building has asbetos, seismic retrofitting and updating work to be done (the Times cites a figure of $40M).

But honestly, is this looking a gift horse in the mouth?  Of course, nothing is truly free but compared to the costs of finding land and building, this may be the best chance the district has. 

I felt certain the district wouldn't want to divert off its "Strategic Plan" for anything.  They truly need help in looking at the vast facilities and capacity problems - hello, City?

End of update.

I received what I believe is a fairly amazing press release this morning from the Downtown Seattle Association.  They firmly believe a downtown school is needed and have now found a possible location (complete with building) - the former Federal Reserve building, on Second Avenue between Spring and Madison.

The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), Downtown Residents Council, Downtown Seattle Families and other partner organizations have sent a letter to Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Superintendent Jose Banda, to alert district officials about the unique opportunity to acquire, at no cost, a suitable building and land Downtown which could serve as the location for a new Downtown public school.

The federal government is disposing of the former Federal Reserve building, located at 1015 2nd Avenue between Spring and Madison streets. Federal law stipulates that the U.S. government will convey a federally owned building and land for free to a public entity if this property is to be operated for public use, which includes a school district opening a school.

FREE. We like free.

About the site:
The existing structure contains 90,000 square feet—enough to meet the SPS specification for more than 550 students. The site is ideally situated to take advantage of downtown educational opportunities, such as the Central Library (two blocks away), Soundbridge at Benaroya (only 2.5 blocks away), and the Seattle Art Museum (two blocks away). The existing structure has plenty of roof space (and plenty of capacity under the zoned height limits) to develop a rooftop playground, similar to the successful new space atop the Northwest School’s recent expansion on Capitol Hill. 
The site has good transportation access. Not only is it within walking distance of thousands of downtown homes, but it is well-served by public transit.

And if that weren’t enough, the building even looks like a school. 

This shows people who are doing the heavy-lift of truly looking around and finding possibilities.  It may not be the perfect but it is a start and a wonderful one at that.  There could be state dollars to aid this effort and yes, even dollars from heavy hitters like Amazon and Vulcan.  There's logistics and everything that comes with it but I applaud this group their effort and what they have discovered in support of Seattle Public Schools.


Anonymous said…
Wow, what an incredible opportunity. I really, really, really hope they take it. I'm a little nervous that they won't. It's a free building! In a central area! I can think of 5 programs off the top of my head that it would be great for.

Patrick said…
Just curious, but why isn't it a Federal responsibility to remove the asbestos from their building, regardless of what the next use of the building might be?
Anonymous said…
This would be an amazing opportunity for SPS!
-Downtown Dad
Anonymous said…
I know that there are also hopes of it becoming a building for a coalition of organizations that fight homelessness and serve homeless populations. As much as I support SPS, I hope it goes towards better efficiency related to homelessness. I work in SPS and see the devastating impact of homelessness on families and students. I have also seen how much worse it has become in the last 6 or so years.

Patrick, no, according to the Times, whoever takes it over is "responsible for all renovation costs" I'm checking that.

More news:

"GSA is required to coordinate with the U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development(HUD) to determine if surplus Federal property is
suitable and/or available for use to assist the homeless as soon as it is declared ‘surplus’ to the
Federal Government.

If the property is suitable for
homeless use, GSA must first consider homeless needs before any other public uses can be considered. Properties can be used to provide shelter, services, storage, or other uses which
benefit homeless persons."

So there is a group putting together an application for homeless use (I have to say this does not go over big with the commenters at the Times but they never like anything.) I can see how this could be good because downtown does have a large homeless population.

I personally think the district should use some of that $5M they have from BEX IV for this purpose to commission a study from Moss-Adams on the viability of this idea. And now.

Po3 said…
Personally I think before we drop $40 million on a new space SPS should look into expanding its footprint at the Seattle Center to see if Center school could be expanded to a 6-12 program or add a middle school and/or a K-5 program.

I would be much more comfortable having my elementary school students at the Seattle Center versus 2nd avenue.

Also, if SPS has $40 million then I think they should renovate that empty building in Magnolia.
kellie said…
And this is why I say it is so important to talk transparently about how we are out of space. When you are transparent about the complete lack of space, then other constituents can help find those resources.

A K-12 downtown school would not solve all the capacity issues but it sure would be a huge help.
Po3, I think dropping the money for a survey of the building just to see if it would work would be worth it but it has to be done soon.

Seattle Center has said they would keep Center School but that would be leased space. And, if you expand, more costs.

The $40M would likely not come just from SPS but the State would kick in as well.

We don't have a lot of choices downtown and that's why if any come up, we need to explore them.
Charlie Mas said…
The idea should not be accepted without careful thought and should not be rejected without careful thought.

The fact is that the District is in desperate need of additional space and should be actively looking for opportunities just like this - wherever they appear in the city.

While the need for space south of the Ship Canal is not as dire as the need north of it, a downtown space like this could be used for a non-geographic community that draws largely or exclusively from the north-end like CPPP, APP, or an alternative program like AS#1/IH.

Put AS#1 downtown and that program will suddenly get very, very popular.
mirmac1 said…
Why take that dump when SPS can take back University Heights or other former schools? If they're not owned outright then they can be, it's called "eminent domain" and condemnation.
Anonymous said…
I don't see this as a school. It looks like a jail, which doesn't make it any more desirable for homeless services either, but free certainly isn't free by the time you study it and make it habitable. Downtown? Sure, but I suspect we can do better on location. Seattle Schools has never met a real estate deal they couldn't eff up, so I think they're ready to be pressured to finally get it right, just not on 2nd Ave.


Charlie Mas said…
I don't understand the perspective that the District has its choice of a lot of opportunities and therefore anything sub-optimal about this opportunity makes is unacceptable.

There are not a lot of opportunities. There is maybe one or two others, and they are, frankly, worse.

Let this deal be supported or opposed on its own merits, but it makes no sense to pass up this deal in favor of some other deal that doesn't exist.
Kate said…
SPS absolutely needs to get its act together and submit an application NOW. It is a very rare opportunity, and if the DSA is willing to do some heavy lifting there may be a way to make it work.

Also, the very last thing that downtown needs, or can withstand, is more services, shelters, etc. If you live in the downtown core (as I do) or visit downtown you know that we are already overwhelmed. While Times commenters are generally unreadably rabid, it is true that over 90% of King County services and housing are sited in our downtown core. This is terrible policy and absolutely must stop.

SPS, think ahead, find some sense of urgency and vision, and explore this opportunity before it's too late because it won't come along again any time soon.
Anonymous said…
Another piece of property worth considering is the very large complex over in Discovery Park. This section of Ft. Lawton is in the NE area of the park. Site has large multiple buildings, some quite new, and field area. Wouldn't take $40 million to renovate. It would be a great site for a large HS or MS-HS. Similar situation to Sandpoint.

The military left in 2011 and it's now in City's hand. This PUBLIC property is worth keeping an eye on. Otherwise it may well go to developers to build million dollar homes on, which is what happened to the old Briarcliff ES. If you check the city's own plan, they are just sitting on this huge property while they are considering use (including for market rate homes). The city could have offered this space to NW center for kids- just one of the newer buildings.....

Anonymous said…
Also something for the mayor and all the billionaires to consider if they want to place quality preschool in public schools. The city need to look at what it can do to mitigate this space crunch before it expands the mission of public school to offer universal pre-schools too. Otherwise it's just talk and using SPS to cover their failure.

Voter, what would be good to know is if the district has a list of all these options and is considering them. But who knows.
Anonymous said…
Voter - good point about the addition of universal preschools.

There is currently a space crunch for the federally mandated Special Education Developmental Preschools - which have been in Seattle Schools for over 30 years (does anyone know that?) .

Some have been or will be housed in portables or other left over spaces. Each and every year, they are threatened with being pushed out. Don't forget those voices in the "master plan!"

mirmac1 said…
I feel strongly that we can take back one of many former schools for considerably less than $40M dollars. And I ain't no Einstein.
Mirmac1, that may be true. But the truth is that this particular situation would solve many issues, now and in the future.

I'm with Charlie; how is it possible to get what we what where we want it at a decent price in downtown Seattle? Good luck with that (unless you are willing to sell your first-born - and their data - to Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen and Bill Gates).
Mirmac1, that may be true. But the truth is that this particular situation would solve many issues, now and in the future.

I'm with Charlie; how is it possible to get what we what where we want it at a decent price in downtown Seattle? Good luck with that (unless you are willing to sell your first-born - and their data - to Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen and Bill Gates).
Anonymous said…
Anything "free" that then mentions "asbestos" as part of the renovation is a NO. Sinkhole of money and lawsuit potential. There's a reason no federal agency wants it.

So it's not even worth looking into? Just like that?

You will never get a downtown school (unless it is absolutely at the terms of Amazon and Vulcan).
Anonymous said…
Yes Melissa just like that. Spend millions on a study for an asbestos-laden facility that already has first dibs from a homeless coalition? This district wastes enough money and time as it is. Millions pulled for an goosechase means we can't fulfill the BEX list which is overcommitted before it hits GO.


SPS can't afford the time or the money of studying the building and couldn't handle the building rehab if it got it.

What millions? I would venture Moss Adams could look the building over for $10-20K and there's money built-into BEX IV for just that purpose. Did you miss that part of BEX IV?
I love that the district has trained parents to not look further than 2-3 years down the line for facilities. It's very short-sighted.
TechyMom said…
I'd love to see an option middle school there, with a program that takes advantage of the downtown location, and all-city draw to take advantage of being at the center of the metro spoke system. We have some wonderful option high schools, but very little for 6th grade unless you enter a k8 during elementary school. Middle school also seems like the most pressing space crunch. 6-12 would be fine too. I know it doesn't have fields, but there are ways around that. The International School in LWSD (Kirkland) uses PE waivers, and kids do outside sports, so there's a precedent for that. I bet the downtown Y would be up for a partnership of some sort, too, to keep the costs down.
Anonymous said…
If you are referencing my comment, I think ahead plenty, and that is why I strongly state that the Federal Reserve building is a boondoggle with a B. There is a reason no other federal agency wants it. Yes I know BEX. $5 million in planning for a downtown school. Go spend it on looking at viable possibilities not an asbestos filled building sitting near little housing infill.

Jan said…
Personally, I hope they take a look at it. 2nd and Spring is a location that has a lot going for it; asbestos exists in many old buildings and is often not problemmatic unless and until it is friable -- so, yes, if they are doing major demolition or rehab inside, or if the asbestos is somewhere where it is crumbling or damaged, it will cost extra to do it in compliance with asbestos rules; Otherwise, it is no worse than asbestos in any other building.
As for other sites -- first, eminent domain is expensive (and some of those buildings were surplussed initiall because of high renovation costs, coupled with declining enrollment). I don't think you are getting U Heights back at any kind of a bargain price! Seconed--none of them are downtown. The OTHER thing (besides just space) is trying to fulfill the call by downtown business interests and residents for a downtown school. 2nd and Spring would do that. It has great bus service; light rail goes within about 2 blocks. You could come up with some amazing programs in law and justice (with the courthouses and city hall just a few blocks away) and marine science, with the aquarium within walking distance.
mirmac1 said…
You pay fair market value in condemnation. Purchasing and renovating a school like, say, U Heights would not be $40M. Many of these former schools retain their original layouts.

This office building would require considerable renovation and remediation. Lead paint? Probably. Seismic retrofit? Yes. New partitions, power, network, plumbing, cafeteria. There's no gym, parking, music rooms or auditorium.

Finally, fulfilling downtown business interests is really low on my list.
Anonymous said…
Does the Downtown Seattle Association want concentrated homeless services going in at 2nd and Spring? Really doubt it. But can they say that and look like good guys? No. Voila! A big push for a school in the building.

Until we get crackin on planning and funding enormous space challenges already existing elsewhere in SPS, sinking money into that building or any other building downtown needs to be second priority.

We should move toward a downtown facility, but not at the cost of it jumping the line of extremely urgent projects elsewhere in SPS.

Anonymous said…
Purchasing and renovating U Heights would easily cost 40 million dollars and take 10 years. There's a school for autistic children in there, as well as a subsidized daycare, and an active community group with funds for extensive litigation and a decent case against emininent domain. Plus there is asbestos in the basement ceilings, I believe, if asbestos is the deciding factor.

What I like about the downtown location is that it is a lot of space and in a central (flexible) area. I have been in that building many times, and it is a lot nicer than many schools currently in use. What the downtown interest group is calling for doesn't really come into it, but I also don't care if they get what they want when the district gets something good- win win, great.

I think the above posters' notions about asbestos are somewhat outdated, from when asbestos litigation still had less certain parameters. There are remediation steps to take now, guidelines to follow, which keep people safe and entities safe from litigation. It was scary in the 80's, though. It's also up for grabs, unlike the buildings we already sold of. I also agree with above posters that it's not as suitable for use by the homeless coalition because that location is saturated. What homelessness in this city needs is money and more services outlying. What the schools need is space. This is space.

Anonymous said…
DISCOVERY PARK FORT LAWTON PROPERTY! WAY BETTER SITUATION than a white elephant downtown (although I think it's not mutually exclusive and SPS should think about both simultaneously, but trying to do two out-of-box things might make heads explode, just saying).

That is an idea I've had for a long time - it would, I think, be a win-win b/c I understand Magnolia doesn't want a lot more housing - the schools there now certainly can't support a lot more housing (and it's not going to end up low density million dollar homes on city land - don't know who thinks that - it will be high density mixed use, which will break those two schools from a capacity standpoint too, and hugely impact Ballard HS).

So - yes, make a new HS complex at Discovery park. Lots of transportation along 15th, and SPS could run a short shuttle from rapid ride lines on the arterial round trip to and from school in the am and pm - it would be very cost effective to have shuttle school bus running that route. City could install bike lockers at the base of Magnolia, some HS kids would come on rapid ride and bike up to Discovery Park - nice bike route separated from arterial.

The only population I think the fed building could work for is ... World School (older kids don't need playground, can use public transportation, centrally located, and TT Minor WILL BE NEEDED for elem and is much better for Elem. ... why would SPS put HS in TT Minor building and elem. kids in a downtown office bldg.? Just saying). Possibly work for Cascade, but not for any preschools or full-time elem, in my opinion.

Signed: Discovery Park
mirmac1 said…
sleeper, I am a construction professional and know my asbestos. I say U Heights as an example. Tenants will have to relocate. Schools have priority use. And the spaces in a former school will need little reconfiguration that will expose insulation with asbestos.
asbestos? So does W-P.

Auditorium? Apparently no one cares in the district so no problem.

Yes, there are 29 underground parking spaces (yes, I checked).

Again, I ask - why is considering this bad? How does it slow anything else down or take money away? (I love that the Genesee Hill project is $2M over budget but no one here is upset about that.)

Discovery Park might be good for a high school but that's not what DSA is talking about here.

Anonymous said…
I work in a field where I know a thing or two about litigation. Schools don't get the same priority use in eminent domain projects as in tenancy disputes(especially since u heights was sold fairly recently, was it not? 2009, is that right?And has been the subject of levy- citizen voted money for improvement for community use) - it is true that they should be able to extremely easily enforce lease agreement terms when they need the schools. Like taking back keys- this is why you lease instead of sell, so you can easily get the space back. But see: Mann and NW Center, even that process was ugly. An eminent domain lawsuit would be very, very expensive and drawn out. We should take back all our leased buildings(and consider much less friendly lease terms and tighter contracts going forward), but even that's not enough space. The downtown building could help with that.

Anonymous said…
Federal building or no, here is a front page NYT article today that shows where we are headed: Portables That Came to Stay.

Rat-infested, falling apart portables that landed in NYC with the kid population booming are now permanent, despite promises from politicians. Sound familiar?

mirmac1 said…
The process may be ugly but necessary. Current tenants and property owners would have a difficult time swaying public opinion when the city's kids are crammed into portable farms.

Genessee Hill is a travesty.
Well, I as noted in my Board agenda wrap-up, the district will be buying upwards of 22-28 more portables.
Anonymous said…
Oh I am 100% with you on the necessity of taking back leased buildings regardless of ugliness. We should be in process on Lake City right now, really. Maybe district staff can move in there, and cascade, Pinehurst, the the na program can have shiny, beautiful JSCEE.

I am very discouraged at poorly the district has done it so far given both how dire the space need is and how well within their rights they were both recent times, and think public opinion is not especially swayed by portable farms (there are already so many, but people are just used to them, think it's whining when parents complain). But we need the space. So we should take back leased buildings.

I just also know that comparing enforcing lease terms with eminent domain/taking of a property owned by someone else is apples to...something extremely huge and un-apple like. Apples to pianos. And leased buildings on their own are not enough. So we need to look at this downtown property too, which may turn out to have prohibitive construction issues, but does NOT have the same litigation issues as u heights.

mirmac1 said…
We took many properties on my projects. It's doable. And making Ron English busy would mean he'd have less time to beat down SpEd families.
Anonymous said…
Flip Herndon is quoted in the Times story saying "Right now we’re not devoting a lot of time and resources to it, just because ... if it’s not even a possibility, it’s not even a possibility.”

Does anyone know his reason for saying it's not a possibility?


Anonymous said…
The more I look at this location, yes, I can see why this would NOT be a deal to walk away from, so I'm wondering what information causes Flip Herndon to say this site isn't possible. As I said before, has SPS ever made a beneficial real estate deal? Just saying that, I'm thinking the MLK FAME give away. Strange how More 4 Mann had to have the Mann School when there's lots of community space at FAME or other locations. Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Michael DeBell and Ron English made MLK deal possible. So what now? How do we encourage the district to make a good deal based on solid numbers? It seems everyone but SPS is making deals, one way or another.

First, I cannot say what information Dr. Herndon has or doesn't have. I do think that simply investing the time in a thorough walk-thru (like with Moss-Adams) is worth it.

As to why Dr. Herndon would say it's not possible, here's a couple of thoughts.

One, the district didn't think this up themselves. Truly. Anything that Facilities doesn't think up on their own, they are very wary of.

Two, too much on their plate. I get that (and I have criticized their ability in being able to cover all the moving pieces) but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

My question is = what could it hurt?

I put this to the Board but, of course, no answer.

Just like AL, most of them have little real interest or knowledge about facilities so they will just pivot off whatever staff says.
Joe Wolf said…
The City's Letter of Interest includes "Preschool" and "Public School" as potential uses. As Flip described the process to me and his other reports, the Feds have to fully consider and reject the two agency- use-specific applicants before they can even have an official conversation with the City and SPS. That process will take 12-18 months.

That's what I know. If you have questions around this please contact Flip directly (info. in the dirrectory at the "front" of the blo
Anonymous said…
If more people downtown were like Joe Wolf, we would have a different school district.

The fact that the guy comments on this blog using his name is amazing enough. The fact that he speaks directly and candidly is almost unreal.

He is loyal to his co-workers without being a pawn. You can tell he actually cares about doing a good job.

I want to clone the guy.

--enough already
mirmac1 said…
Yes, thank you Joe.
Okay, I read the document on this issue and that's not what I read. I will put it up tomorrow and everyone can have a look. But yes, I think the district could put in an letter of interest.
Anonymous said…
Here's a question for Joe, if he comes back (please come back!)

Does anyone look at, think, talk, etc about the site at Discovery Park?

The feds have put a fancy VA treatment center on the upper lot, but I think it's something very limited like chemo appointments - it's not a hospital or full-time facility, I believe (but it's beautiful).

The lower buildings and area - and it's a BIG area - are the ones the city controls, I believe. I've heard a plan for mixed income housing, I've heard fancy housing, I've heard very dense housing - I've heard Magnolia doesn't want any of those and it's all stalled. I don't know any realities.

The one reality I know is that it's a big lot, and if the city wants to partner w/SPS, this is a great site to start.

Might actually be a better location than Lincoln for a new HS, I think, b/c has fields (Magnolia would like more fields) and can be used for QA, Magnolia, downtown - transit to downtown is good - and some sort of option draw to draw off the other neighborhood schools north, maybe.

The rapid ride line goes all the way to west Seattle - so it could easily be drawn to give preference to everyone along rapid ride.

Has SPS started to explore Discovery Park area with city at all?
TechyMom said…
I'm also curious about Magnusson Park (former Sand Point Naval Air Station). Has there been any effort to site a school there? If so, what was the outcome? If not, why not?
Ragweed said…
It would be foolish not to look at that location for a possible school, even with the cost. Especially if the Downtown Seattle Association and other orgs might be willing to help with some funding.

The question should not be either-or with regard to this, University Hights, Ft Lawton and other sites. If Kellie's numbers elsewhere are correct, Seattle will need seats for 13,000 more students in the next 10 years. If we have 5000-kid cohorts in K+1, and they remain in SPS till high-school, we will need capacity for 6,400 additional HS students in approx. 10 years, and half that number in 4-5 years. We will need every building we can get.

The federal building location would be a great place for the World School or for a STEM-oriented HS program.

I wonder how well it would work as a K-5 or K-8. For kids living in the downtown core it would be great. Would it work to try to bring school-busses in from other areas into downtown traffic? Would parents who worked downtown take their kids in on public transit they way they do with downtown daycares? Will parents stay in downtown condo's when their kids get older (I have heard that in Vancouver, parents tend to stay in downtown high-rises until their kids are about 8-10, then move out for larger digs).

It would not be a great place for Pinehurst/IH due to the lack of green space - we are already working on a native plant / indegenous foods garden and outdoor spaces will be an important part of the curriculum.

Either way SPS is going to need all the space we can get.
Charlie Mas said…
What will be the fate of the two former hotels that Cornish is now using as residence halls after Cornish builds their new tower?

Have they already been sold?

Is there any other land between Jackson and Mercer that could soon be for sale?
Kate said…
To Charlie's question, the Cornish buildings are on lots that are going to be developed (by Amazon, if I recall correctly).

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