Wilson-Pacific BEX Meeting

Sometimes it's not the explosion but the slow burn.

After attending the Wilson-Pacific BEX meeting last night, that slow burn on this project may be the fuse that ignites voters to say no to the next capital levy measure.  (That would be BTA IV in Feb. 2016.) 

I know.  February 2016 seems like a long way off and voters forget, move on, etc.

Except that Wilson-Pacific is an extra-ordinary project that if not done well, could have severe outcomes for the district for BTA IV.  Because, by then, this project will be well underway.  The project was slated for $110M and - big surprise - is now up to $116M (that's the number I heard tossed out last night). 

I would put up highlights from the meeting but there were very few (except for the good humor of BEX spokesman Tom Redman who managed to interject some laughs into the crowd of about 140).   Sadly, staff did not seem to anticipate such a crowd and did not have nearly enough chairs out.  It's a little thing but it spoke volumes.

  • Directors Carr, Martin-Morris and President Peaslee were there.  None of them spoke.
  • There were no fewer than 17 people included (not including Board members).  There was no applause for anyone.  It was a ridiculous exercise to have that many people from SPS, plus the architects, construction managers, environmental consultant, transportation consultant, archaeologist, and the consulting architect for the Native American murals.  (Yes, I am going to find out how much all these people are getting paid.)  Most of these people did not speak.  There was no one from Enrollment which seemed like poor planning.
  • There is a second meeting for the City's Development Standards Departure Advisory Committee for Wilson-Pacific Elementary and Middle Schools on Wed., May 28th at 6:30 pm at the Seamat Center at W-P.  (Details on how to send written comments at the end of this thread.)  
  • The community around the building has formed a group, Wilson Pacific One Coalition and have retained a lawyer, J. Richard Aramburu, to represent them.  Their arguments are that the departures that SPS desires from the City are not merely departures but are substantially beyond that.  They have parking, bus zone, height and acreage concerns.  (I myself was wondering about the acreage because when I worked on the Facilities Master plan committee, there were specific acreage needs specified and I was not aware that they had changed.)  The letter to the City and the district from the lawyer states that Washington State "requirements"  are 12 acres for an elementary and 20 for a middle school (W-P is about 17 acres total.) 
         The community wants ONE school on the property, sited on the west side of the site and to maintain the existing athletic fields and green space. 
  • Once again - and something needs to change - staff followed their script of Intros, overly-long PowerPoint (which, in this case, was really useless in trying to view drawings of the buildings from the audience), questions on cards, etc.  It is a great way to control the meeting but rarely are enough questions heard by the entire group along with answers.  The intros and PP took nearly an hour.
  • The district thinks the area may need one or more traffic lights but "that's up to the City."
  • A question was asked about daylighting Licton Springs and it was noted that this is on the FAQs.  What is odd is that they said at the meeting they did not do it because people wanted two buildings.  That's not what it says on the FAQ as a reason. 
  • There was a question about flexibility and capacity and the answer was quite surprising.  Apparently they are already planning for portables.  
  • There was a question about a "buffer from the criminal activity on Aurora."  Dr. Herndon gave a reply that could be open to interpretation.  He said every middle school has a security resource officer.  This is true but the elementary school won't have one.  The security officer may ONLY attend to issues directly on school property.  If someone is out on the sidewalk, that person would have to call SPD and could not do much.  Dr. Herndon should have qualified his answer.
  • Someone asked about safety with traffic issues especially in winter.  The answer was a bit silly - they looked at traffic analysis collision data.  That's great except that the site will have hugely changed so is that data still valid given the changes?
  • When Dr. Herndon was asked about the enrollment numbers and APP, he said the district could always identify another elementary to split them off and send them there.  Really?  
  • Kate Martin said she believed there should be one building at Wilson-Pacific and is disappointed in the direction of the design.  She and I both stated that we believe the site should have an auditorium (or design to bring one on-board later).  I asked why - if community collaboration is an ed spec and this area has no community center  - the district didn't both to put in an auditorium.  
This issue of an auditorium seems to hit a nerve and the district was ready with an architect (?) (she wasn't introduced so I don't know who she was) with a slide showing the cost would be - get this - $12M if you add in schedule extension, permitting, building, etc.  It is so interesting that when the district wants something "extra," they find the money.  But if it's parents/community, the district is poor.

I don't buy that $12M figure for a minute.  Not that it wouldn't cost more but it would not cost that much.  And how do I know that?  Because that was not the original figure they gave.
  • Then we had the curious case of Executive Director for this region, Jon Halfaker, who was Washington Middle School's long-time principal.  (I have high regard for Mr. Halfaker as he was assistant principal at Eckstein when my younger son was there.)  The question about was about securing the courtyard areas that look like "a security nightmare."  This person seemed concerned not about outside people coming in but rather middle schoolers acting out (possibly hidden from view).
Mr. Halfaker was quite sincere in explaining his 20 years in working with middle school students and, as well, that teachers beg for outdoor spaces to use.  He said teachers and students don't care about the weather. 

And, that in all his time working with these students, he never saw any middle school students fooling around (sexually or otherwise) in these outdoor spaces.   He also said that they used these outdoor spaces at Hamilton which could be described "as unsafe at times." 

While I respect Halfaker, I also believe that if you give kids enough spaces and not enough supervision, there could be unwanted activity.  I also do not believe that Wilson-Pacific and Hamilton's locations are similar so I believe the concern for W-P is warranted.  That he did not really acknowledge either thing was curious to me.  (He also made the claim that teachers "asked" for outdoor spaces and they would have power and water.  A nearby FACMAC member said that was absolutely untrue.)
  • Community members seem very upset over the loss of the playfields.  My understanding is that the current configuration of the playfields will not be the same as what will exist after the rebuild.  This issue is not part of the FAQs and I have to wonder why. 
I believe to have the FACMAC Committee do so much hard work and put in so many hours, only to ignore their work is disrespectful on the part of the district and the Board.  I believe FACMAC deserves a public reply to their concerns on this project.

I am going to reprint the comment here from the knowledgeable Kellie LaRue on the current situation:

The more I think about this today, the more I think somebody really need to hit the pause button on this project before more taxpayer dollars are just wasted in the process of committing the final large piece of property in SPS inventory in North Seattle.

The board is convinced that we have to move full speed ahead and that more than enough oversight and due diligence has been done. So presuming that is correct, the what is the issue. I think the issue is "continuity and leadership." This project has suffered significantly from a lack of leadership and continuity.

The original plan essentially did not have a natural constituency as there were no students assigned to the school and only a vague promise that APP at Lincoln might land there. As such the plan developed in a vacuum.

I was on the Wilson Pacific SDAT as well as the Thornton Creek SDAT and I can say that the process was substantially different. The Thornton Creek project had a plethora of invested teachers, staff and neighbors who all contributed significantly. The WP project had minimal attendance, rotating principals, no Executive Director participation, no neighbors, just really the project team.

During the scope of the project, there was a change in the board, the executive Director for the NW changed from Marni Campbell to Jon Halfaker, Flip was hired on long after this project was underway. If I recall correctly, this project started under Susan Enfield. I was at a meeting while Susan was still Superintendant where it was discussed that this was the only property where you could put two buildings. Even the project manager is new this year. 

If I am looking at this correctly, I don't know if anyone has been directly involved in this project from the beginning until now.
The BEX Oversight committee's review of this project said, "this design really boxes you in, are you sure you want to do that?"

The parents on the SDAT said repeatedly, this building does not create the experience parents will be expecting.

Multiple principals visited the meeting and gave input and much of that input was highly critical, including one principal who said she would never work in a building designed that way.

Finally in November 2013, there was a constituency voted into the boundaries and at the same meeting the plan was changed and very few parents knew about the change. There certainly was NOT a push notification to all the families in the new boundary to say "Wilson Pacific will be your NEW middle school in 2017"

This project involves not only significantly over $100 Million but it also is putting into service the last piece of significant property owned by the district. 

 In basic project management, you always want to ask, does this solution solve your problem? I think the lack of continuity at this point, could very well mean that there isn't anyone evaluating this project from the point of view of what is this project supposed to accomplish.

This will wind up being a 100-year campus. The shape and scope of the buildings and the fields will have impacts on north Seattle for decades. 

It seems like taking a moment to measure twice and do it as it it was worth doing, matters. 

I agree and I believe the district is taking a huge chance with tax dollars and public goodwill. 


Charlie Mas said…
People sometimes wonder "How do such bad decisions get made?"

This is how.
kellie said…
After the meeting I spoke with a friend who is a professor of public policy and a professional mediator. I wanted to understand how there could be so much poor communication in one room.

It was really clear that staff felt they were doing the right thing. It was really clear that parents thought they were doing the wrong thing. There was no real dialogue of any sort.

She explained to me that parents look at this problem as an education problem and that education is about continuity and cohorts. Parents are upset that there is no real plan for education and continuity or cohort. Families repeated spoke about how all of their children were going to

Neighbors were looking at this as a 100 year campus that would define the area going forward and they were upset because this is being deployed as a projected and not a campus.

SPS couldn't hear any of the "problems" because ultimately, their only obligation is to provide a per grade experience. From their point of view, it really doesn't matter if the 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade and 9th grade experience happen in 5 buildings or one building as they have fulfilled their obligation.

So I have a real question and I hope someone can answer this. When all of the neighborhoods in the Greenlake area are going to be faced with "by year" plans, whose problem is it?

For the kids that will be sliced into Wilson Pacific and then Lincoln, whose job is it to ensure that education is first and that when the last pieces of SPS real estate is put into use that it is done with the priority of education first? Anyone know?
Kellie, I will query the Board.
Anonymous said…
Someone needs to submit an opinion piece to The Seattle Times. That is the only way the issue will get traction at this point. Staff is clearly dug in and like all the other incidents with capital planning in the past decade - from "we must close schools to we can NEVER EVER open Sandpoint to let's sell MLK to Hey, let's combine a middle school and high school in West Seattle - staff is Dead Wrong.

Like every other story it will be a shrug and "oh well it's too late" or "that decision happened on someone else's watch" unless the community gets even more publicly outraged.

Neighbors can't change this one within the system. The system isn't listening. Take it to the press and also, give your councilmembers a call.

Personally, I'm just waiting for some Native artifacts to be dug up on the grounds. That will (rightfully) slow down all construction plans. What's the district's backup plan then? Or if the community's new lawyer gains traction. Oh, there isn't a backup plan? What a surprise.

Anonymous said…
Is there a link to Wilson Pacific One group? I couldn't be at the meeting.

neighborhood observer
Anonymous said…
Wilson Pacific One Coalition

There's not a lot on their site but you can get an idea of their goals and get some contact info. At the meeting, they also handed out copies of a letter written to the city and the district by the lawyer the coalition has retained.

Do their goals align well with the idea of a mid-course correction that involves building a high school at Wilson Pacific and swapping elementary / middle school usage at Lincoln and Hamilton? And would such a mid-course correction contribute to a greater degree of predictability for Greenlake-area families and APP-bound families? And how many additional seats (in buildings, not portables) would that switcharoo bring? How large of a high school could be built on the site, based on the goals of Wilson Pacific One Coalition?

-lots of unanswered questions
Anonymous said…
it's too late to change anything. The poobahs downtown knew that expanding the campus into the open spaces would rile up the neighbors, so they just waited for the capacity pressure to push it through.
I'm also starting to wonder about plan B if it doesn't start on time.
Did the archeologist discuss expectations for the project at the meeting?

Robyn said…
My impression was it isn't yet much of a coalition. It's one guy who lives on Wallingford and the attorney, but if groups align, it could be mutually beneficial. I spoke to them briefly before the meeting and said the FACMAC recs might be able to align with their desires, but they'd have to budge a bit on the size/height of the building. They were really, really open to exploring it.

The areas of overlap between FACMAC and this group are: one school on the property, fields could be on the east side of the property, less yellow bus service going through since HS kids don't get busses, maybe more parking could be put on site, etc.

Both sides need to budge a bit, but none of that matters since SPS isn't listening to anyone and is seemingly moving forward with a seriously flawed project.

Melissa, I am glad you have respect for Halfaker and, Kellie, I am comforted that you are please he is now involved. I don't know him, but will believe he was an incredible principal and most likely a wonderful human being. That being said, he took quite a few 'liberties' with his statements. He said he has been consulting on this project for quite some time, he said he met with Cindy Watters that morning and implied she was on board with the project and the "incredible outdoor learning opportunities" that would take place in the courtyards. It was such a song and dance. I'm sure SPS will reward him greatly. It I wasn;t so informed about reality, I absolutely would have believed him.
MM, the archeologist didn't speak (at least I don't think so, my notes don't reflect it). The architect for the Native American murals did but he was so rambling, I'm not sure I understood his point.

Well Robyn, I did state my respect for Halfaker and THEN express my concern over what he actually said. It was odd.
kellie said…

I am very pleased that Halfaker is now involved. Frankly, I believe that if an educator of his caliber had been at all 9 SDAT meetings, this building would have taken a very different course.

I am so confident about this as at every SDAT meeting, the folks who had actually employment as a building principal, always had highly accurate and highly critical input. However, the revolving door on participation meant there was very little traction on these types of comments.

I mention on another thread that Chris Chronas participation, managed to secure separate gyms and separate libraries. There was a strong push to share a library on a 2,000 student campus. I and several other folks tried to point out the obvious that all sorts of meetings, including staff meetings, happen in the school library. There would be no way to coordinate that between two schools. Can you imagine all of the early release days for professional development and the library is being used by the other school?
Anonymous said…
I spoke with Flip Herndon after the meeting and asked 2 questions. 1) what about the FACMAC recs.? He said that after seeing them they ran the numbers and high school square footage/student reqs would push Wilpac up to $180 million, so not seemingly possible in BEX budget. 2) what elementaries have space to host a split off of APP once it outgrows Wilpac (to get clarification to his answer about how Lincoln has around 700 students and Wilpac APP elem is being built for 650, so thye might have to add an APP elem program to an existing elem. school)? He named a longer list (surprisingly) than I recall - including Bagley (after it's remodel), Olympic View (or Heights - the one that is getting rebuilt - ?), and the Nordic Heritage building.
Just a messenger
Anonymous said…
Just a messenger,

Can I say I am shocked? Bagley has needed a renovation for ages and it will barely cover the capacity needed for their expanding population. The board specifcially voted not to place elementary APP at Olympic Hills and the Nordic Heriage site, similar to Cedar Park, is too small for even 400 students.

Besides John Marshall, the only north end facility with space to handle half of northern APP elementary is Thornton Creek, once the new building opens in 2016. It is more than likely that space will be needed for another attendance area northeast school.

Can anyone think of another space for APP students besides at Wil-Pac Elementary or Hamilton (under the FACMAC proposal). If Flip is stating that they ran the numbers, then it must not be too late to change the project...

Other HIMS mom
Charlie Mas said…
I'm glad someone asked Mr. Herndon a direct question and got a direct answer.

Here are the direct questions I would like answered, authoritatively and on the record:

1. What is the capacity of the WP Middle School building?

2. How many of those seats will be for AS1?

3. How many of those seats will be for APP?

4. How many of those seats will be for neighborhood students?

5. How many neighborhood students are already enrolled in the feeder schools?

6. How many APP students are already enrolled in the feeder schools?

7. What will it cost to build an auditorium that the schools and the community can share?

8. What is the budget for the total project?

Then some qualitative questions:

1. What opportunity will AS1 have to grow?

2. Does it make any sense at all to constrain AS1 to its lowest attendance? Is it cost effective to have a school that size?

3. What are the opportunities for increasing building capacity with this design? Can a wing be added? Is there space for portables? Where’s the flexibility?

4. Why can the District easily find capital money for some things (increased budget for the project) but not for others (auditorium)?

5. Why can the District easily adjust BEX plans for some things but not for others?

6. When and how are either of these schools ever to come together as a whole school? How can they build community without being able to come together? Where and how will they present performances or conduct graduations? In the gym?

7. Why does the District have advisory and oversight committees if they aren’t going to listen to the advice or oversight? FACMAC says the district needs to make Hamilton a very big elementary, Lincoln a very big middle school and build a very big high school at Wilson-Pacific to take real steps towards providing the necessary capacity. Aren’t they right?

8. The current plan will be an utter failure if the enrollment projections are even a little bit too low. Why create that opportunity for failure? Why not build big now when you have the chance to assure sufficient capacity?
Anonymous said…

They aren't even currently building big enough to meet their projections. They need over 3000 more high school seats north of the ship canal/QA/Mag. Lincoln only provides 1600 new seats under the SPS plan.

A parent,
apparent said…

Again, centrally-located John Marshall should be reopened as either an elementary school or a comprehensive middle school.

This would make much more sense than its current interim uses, specifically including the wasteful temporary relocation of JA-K8 so as to needlessly and hastily split north Seattle middle school APP.

For either elementary or middle school APP students, the John Marshall building would really offer a welcome refuge from constant chopping and moving by SPS central office staff contrary to the academic needs of advanced learners.

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