Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Seattle Downtown School - Is the Fix In?

I make no secret of the fact that I had been pushing for the district to consider applying to take over the empty Federal Reserve building downtown.  I believed it was worth looking into (and still do).  However, that is now tempered by this rather large push for the building.  Who's pushing?  All the forces that have decided that, for SPS, preschool is the cause de jour (de annee, as well). 

I think this is very much about the City's preschool push and, without that, the district would not be acting as it now is.

When I talked to Facilities' Flip Herndon at the community meeting where all the staff showed up to talk to the public, he could not have been less interested.  He practically said that they were just too busy with BEX to consider it.  And now? Well, here's the press release from the district:

Seattle Public Schools is inviting the public to attend a conversational meeting regarding the possibility of creating a K-5 elementary school in downtown Seattle. After the meeting, at about 7:15 p.m., attendees can take a tour of the nearby Federal Reserve Bank building, a potential location for a downtown school.

When: 6 p.m., Monday, July 28

Where: Seattle Central Library in the Microsoft Auditorium, 1000 4th Avenue, Seattle

: A short presentation on what a downtown school might entail, followed by an informal Q&A with Seattle Public Schools staff.

Seattle Public Schools enrollment is growing, with an additional 10,000 students expected over the next decade. The District has seen an increase of families in the Downtown area, and voters in 2013 approved the Building Excellence (BEX) capital levy, which included $5 million to begin planning for a downtown school. The District is awaiting information regarding the Federal Reserve Building as a possible location for a downtown school.

A tour?  This is an unusual step for the district.  (Also, I have never heard the district say they expected to keep up the 1,000/per year rate of growth before.) 

A "conversational" meeting?  That involves talking so I would expect the majority of the meeting to be a conversation and not a presentation. 


Anonymous said...

Gah. High school seats. We need high school seats. Not k-5 seats in an area that has 200 extra ones a mile away.

I want to go to the meeting, but if the fix is already in I fear it would just be another frustrating exercise in watching the district shoot itself in the foot and 3 years later exclaim in surprise that they have a problem (which can miraculously only be solved by two groups duking it out in public, and one of them getting screwed).


Just Saying said...

Who decided that the Fed. Bld. should be K-5? We need a high school in that area.

Just Saying said...


I suspect the two groups duking it out would involve the city and SPS, and SPS would get screwed.

I'm watching the city foist Preschool for all on the district, and the district doesn't seem to have the ability to advocate for the school district.

Anonymous said...

FACMAC has worked diligently over the last 3 years studying and working the facilities capacity shortage crisis. Not BEX oversight committee (they just consider construction questions), not the Board (they provide governance to the staff for the things that staff puts before them), not anyone else. FACMAC looked at the enrollment trends and geographic distribution, utilizations of existing facilities, and the need for where and what kind of facilities are needed and with what relative priorities.

The FACMAC crew has been on duty longer than the soon to be former super, his henchmen/gals, including Flip and Ken Gotsch and now Richard Best, plus Tolley and Heath (in their current JSCEE roles). Seems like them getting cut out of this loop is ...deliberate?

Hold this meeting , and chances are the only people mostly likely to show up are the folks Vulcan and the Downtown Business Association can roust. Then they have a great "we have a mandate" sampling error shiny trophy to show off to the Board. I doubt any of the folks going to that meeting will care that Denny/Stealth is out of space, and it's only going to get worse. Similarly, I highly doubt any of them will know where Ballard/Roosevelt/Hale are located, let alone the fact that they are saturated and it's only going to get worse, and it's not like Garfeild can provide relief. They probably also won't know that Queen Anne/Magnolia are in trouble too; the days of McClure have a few seats (maybe 60), are about finished. But they all rant about how there are some babies in Belltown (who could go to Lowell or Gatzert).

Wonder why this kind of meeting was never held for Wilson Pacific when the Board considered inserting elementary kids into the new middle school being built there. I guess that's because DBA and Vulcan weren't involved?

theatrics for show

Anonymous said...

I'm curious whether a k-5 in the Federal Reserve Building would be for students living within a downtown reference area, or would it be for people like me, who live near the north end of the City limits, but would like my little one to be in school near my work?

Not Sure

Lynn said...

Unless it's an option school (special focus, etc) it will have an attendance area and students living there will have assignment priority. Kids in the likely attendance area currently are assigned to Lowell. Lowell's capacity is 550 - last year 208 students were enrolled. A downtown K-5 should be at the bottom of our priority list. We need high school seats.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Not Sure, it does depend on if it's an option or attendance school. I think it is more likely to be an Option and then you would have a better chance.

As to who is at the meeting, well, it would just take a few people to raise some issues.

Anonymous said...

Including the 3 special education PK classes, which do not get counted in official district enrollment numbers, Lowell enrolled 245 students during the 13-14 school year. We have room to grow. At the same time, we are enjoying our enrollment size, along with the new culture and climate ushered in by our new principal in 2012, after past issues with APP and the former school leadership.

In a recent Capitol Hill blog, Lowell was described as reinventing itself to be THE downtown school for SPS. So, there is no need to discuss a downtown school; the new Lowell is the downtown elementary school. Invest in it!

-Lowell Parent

Anonymous said...

Lowell has about 300 extra seats. What are the projected seats needed in the downtown area for the next 5-10 years for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 respectively?

Care for SPS

TechyMom said...

Would Center School fit in that building? Center School expanded to 6-12? Is downtown close enough to the arts organizations they partner with (or other ones) to make it work? It would be nice to stop leasing. Downtown is a great location for an option 6-12 (or 6-8 or 9-12), because it has metro service from all over the city.

mirmac1 said...

I say no to this boondoggle. If it's a fait accompli (what the Chamber, wants the Chamber gets) then we need HS space. And that will considerably jack up the remodel cost.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so, I probably fit the bill for most of the descriptors mentioned (even if the tone was less than complimentary): moved to Seattle within the last five years, have a new baby, would be zoned for Lowell, not aware of the specific needs of each school, sure.

Initially, I supported the idea of a downtown school because I support the fact that yes, families do wish to stay in the downtown area, and we're not some mythological unicorn. And this space in this location, no matter its purpose, seems too good a deal to pass up.

That being said, I have no problem sending my child to Lowell (provided there's actually space when the time comes; I'm skeptical of any assumptions) and having downtown gain a high school, etc. I am not interested in having the building as a preschool.

I have considered attending the meeting, but am not sure I can swing it with a teething baby. And to be honest, I'm a bit put off by the comments here and don't wish to be treated as some yuppie shill just because I fit a demographic and am excited about the notion of gaining options. Should I send an email instead? What would you all recommend?

-New Mom

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify the north of the ship canal high school capacity crisis:

In fall 2014 - 6 weeks from now - the four north end high schools - ALL FOUR (Ballard, Roosevelt, Hale and Ingraham) will have 90 total available seats. That's not 90 9th grade seats. That's 90 total (might be 92... but I"m not going to look it up right now. It's less than 95).

Yes. Less than 100 available high school seats for any child at all in the ENTIRE NORTH OF THE CITY. IN SIX WEEKS.

Ballard and Roosevelt can only take portables if they use the football fields. Ingraham can take several, but Hale has a green space and sensitive environmental area, so its portables would have to go across the street at the JAMS lot.

Is the district lit on fire over that? Or are they focused on preschool for all?

pfwtthth (imagine rude noise).

Melissa: can you do an informal poll over rather people would rather switch to staggered schedules or year round school, versus give up football fields for portables, to bridge the gap until a heck of a lot more seats are on line? At high school, capital solutions (buildings) are basically over. And the only things left are drastic, massive scheduling changes to crunch more kids into the same amount of space, or else giving up the fields for portables.

As a parent, I'd prefer giving up the fields and having a continuity of schedule across the district and across all grades. Some people might feel differently, but I think the district assumes football fields are a third rail and won't even ask if EVERY SINGLE CHILD and family in the district should have a huge schedule impact rather than put portables on high school fields.

Regardless of the outcome, it's such a big decision that serious community engagement would have to be done.

Signed: No runway

Anonymous said...

@ new mom

I know a number of downtown parents who avoid this blog because it can be intimidating to post as a downtown parent (this is not a reflection of those who run the blog). If you don't feel comfortable attending the meeting in person, I would suggest writing in.

As to the capacity at Lowell, there is more residential development happening in the downtown neighborhood than at any other time in Seattle’s history. As you know from experience, there are a lot of parents in these buildings who are not leaving downtown to raise kids which is something SPS has never had to deal with. There is also unprecedented development happening in the First Hill and Capitol Hill neighborhoods which is why Lowell is likely only a temporary solution for downtown children.

Building a downtown school is the only sustainable solution, and the opportunity to acquire free property (land) for a school downtown is probably never going to happen again. In my opinion, not acquiring this school is as short sighted as selling Queen Anne High.

-Downtown Dad

Another Parent said...

“Downtown school should be bottom of list of priorities”. “The new Lowell is the downtown elementary school”. I haven’t seen anything written here that supports that conclusion. Instead it seems we first would need to know the expected number of students in the downtown area in the next 5 to 10 years. If SPSs is expected to need the capacity (and I’m not talking about some hypothetical preschool mandate that doesn't exist), then I would agree the Federal Reserve Building should be evaluated. The fact that there are high school, APP and other capacity issues doesn't negate the fact that there appears to be significant long-term growth downtown and when an opportunity presents itself sometimes you have to jump.

Melissa Westbrook said...

New Mom, welcome.

I would send an e-mail to the Board (schoolboard@seattleschools.org) and let them know what you think.

Could Center move? Probably and they may have to eventually as I think SPS will eventually get priced out of where Center is right now.

I agree that Lowell should be filled but the need is to the Queen Anne side, not to the east.

Maybe I can get Flip Herndon to do an interview with me and tell me how all these puzzle pieces fit together. I am still astonished that anyone other than the Early Learning department has time to think about preschool when all these other facilities issues are so pressing.

mirmac1 said...

I would say too bad taxpayers cannot ascertain the truth from the Downtown Seattle Association's marketing campaign. They have managed to obfuscate the issue enough so I have no faith in anything they say. No. There's nothing against those who choose to live downtown. I would expect they understand the financial and capacity pressures many of us have lived under for some years now.

Disgusted said...

Did the board, superintendent and English have a copy of the medical report?

Very troubling that chaperones lost control on first night, but even worse that the situation continued for another night.

Disgusted said...

Sorry, post belongs on another link.

kellie said...

The challenge with this problem is the intersection of the need to triage multiple capacity problems and the overall capacity needs.

Simply put, a downtown elementary will work and will fill. There are lots of families in that area (not nearly enough to fill a school) and there are lots of families who would be more than happy to opt-out of their very over-crowded attendance area school to use a school near their work (provided that there was sufficient wrap around care so that work hours and schools hours were similar).

How quickly a downtown elementary school fills is open to speculation. It is the how long will it take and how many resources will it consume from staff that becomes the center of the debate. There are serious capacity needs and the needs are accelerating. So how you decide which problem gets solved is a big deal.

The problem with high school is that there are significantly fewer opportunities to "load balance" than with either elementary or middle school. As Elementary School is homeroom based, you can take 30-100 portables and sprinkle them in the system and add elementary homerooms with relatively little disruption. Moreover, we have seen in action, entire elementary schools opened with less than a year of planning, mostly because that was a collection of homerooms.

However, high school is much more high stakes and is based on a master schedule for classes. Planning high school capacity is complicated and takes time and planning and resources.

Does planning a downtown elementary mean that there is no plan for high school. No. Facilities could open a dozen elementary schools. They know how to do it.

Not planning for high school in a public, transparent and robust way, is not planning for high school. I know there are many staff who are really looking at high school but that planning is not public.

We are out of high school capacity and there are NO public meetings on that topic. Until this is some transparency on this topic, it will "be a series of "why are we doing this instead of _______

mirmac1 said...

Hot off the interwebs! SPS' application for the Federal Building. Haven't examined it closely yet, but I see a wholly inadequate response where it comes to financial means to pull off this $53M boondoggle.

Compass should read through these:

Downtown School Collection


Lori said...

Kellie, did you see this yet:

From Section 5C:
[The building] is near the geographic center of the central region. A rapid decline in available/surplus K-5 seats is projected for that area in the next 5 years; from 857 in 2012-13 to 171 in 2017-18. From a school operations and program support perspective, a numeric seat surplus of 171 seats in an area serving 6,100 students (projected K-5 enrollment in Central area in 2017-18) is effectively zero or a deficit . It represents a very "brittle" status...the ability to respond to unexpected demands or changes is severely compromised. The addition of [these] 660 seats...will allow Seattle Public Schools to respond to change without disrupting families, teaching and learning.

If a surplus of 171 K-5 seats is "effectively zero" and "very brittle," then how do they describe an actual deficit of over 1,000 highschool seats that we are facing in the northend very soon? That is what FACMAC projects - I think it was around a 1200 seat in deficit in 2017. That means we will be short an entire high school in 3 years! Yet, there seems to be no sense of urgency to solving this situation.

It's bewildering and maddening. I watched them kick the can down the road on the northend middle school capacity crisis for years on end, and now I'm watching it happen at the high school level.

And while I completely understand the desire of downtown families to have a downtown school (and, yes, please go to the meeting and advocate for yourselves), I hope you can understand and empathize with those of us in the northend who have been living with the capacity crisis for years now. Not knowing where your 5th grader will go to middle school is hard. Not knowing where your 6th grader will go to high school is even harder because the stakes are higher. Downtown families with young kids all currently have seats in a nearby school. The same cannot be said for those of us with older kids in the northend. And it's stressful year after year to deal with the uncertainty, and no resolution is in sight.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, so I look thru the application.

1) I asked if Banda was signing off on any thing - agreement, etc. - and was told no. Did the Board not know about this? Hard to say.

2) The application says, "No other property is currently owned by SPS in the downtown corridor of the City of Seattle." They own property at Seattle Center. Is that not downtown (or is it just not in the "downtown corridor)?

3) $53M and most of it is to come from a levy? I'm out.

Look, if there was some downtown money thrown in this deal, a plausible way to finance this long-term, I would be for it. But I cannot support a levy just for one building (and that's the impression I get from the application).

We have to pass BTA III which is far more important than this.

I am sorry to see that, for me, this is not going to work (at least as it is currently outlined).

Reader47 said...

$50 million plus for ONE school? I think not. There must be other options because that's beyond comical. What happens if the Feds give them the building based on the promise that a levy passes because they usually do around here and then, oops the Levy fails?

Can you say albatross? yep figured you could ;)

Anonymous said...

What organization paid Bassetti to do the plan submitted with the application? There was a contract involved with it and it was more than a few days worth of work. If it was SPS, who signed off on it and what fund was used?


mirmac1 said...

I expect once I FINALLY get City records (their response has been less than satisfactory to date), we may find that out.

In any case, BA should be precluded from the Design contract. They obviously got an "in" with some muckety mucks.

Anonymous said...


Exactly - "free" isn't "free".

Costs about $33M for a 660 seat brand new k5.

Costs about $44M for a 1,250 seat comprehensive middle school.

Costs about $140M for a 1600 seat high school.

(those figures are total cost - fees, tax, etc -- but don't include land acquisition costs).

So, to pay $53M to rehab a building for capacity that is not urgent in a location that's not urgent.... thats not just bad planning, that's the opposite of planning. That's just reacting - and disregarding one's own prioritized plan.

South West Seattle is going to have major issues. They need to rebuild Denny at Denny, and let Stealth capture new Denny.

Queen Anne and Magnolia are missing their high school. They need it back.

Ballard/Wallingford is out of elementary seats, that's with Loyal Heights getting a new wing and Bagley too. WilPac elementary is already filled as the wilpac APP kids must go there to make way for Lincoln High School. The district needs to bring back Webster; Ballard is building another 1,200 units and those will have families.

So yeah, jumping that looong que of burning priorities when all those kids downtown/eastlake/george town have seats in the various k5s already there... would be the ultimate insulting boondoggle.

Free ain't Free

Charlie Mas said...

NGC asked:

"What organization paid Bassetti to do the plan submitted with the application? There was a contract involved with it and it was more than a few days worth of work. If it was SPS, who signed off on it and what fund was used?"

There was $5 million in BEX IV for planning for a downtown school. I'm pretty sure that was the funding source for this work.

mirmac1 said...

The district would be hard-pressed to sign on Bassetti under an "emergency" sole-source procurement. I will bet SPS will get presented with another invoice from our "friends". Could be another one for the State Auditor to examine.

mirmac1 said...

Interesting. Tacoma is more conscientious about ensuring a downtown school "won’t impact any of the dollars that the voters have approved on the various bonds over the years".

kellie said...

@ Lori,

No, I hadn't read that but it could easily have been something that I wrote.

I first started to describe the middle school issue in the NE as brittle about 4 years ago and well look what happened. Brittle broke and then we had this domino effect of moving up the boundary changes by a year and shuffling 4 schools so that Jane Addams could be pushed into service by 2014 because the brittle situation, broke.

In about 5 years, the elementary capacity issues on Capitol Hill, Queen Anne and Downtown will be extremely brittle, and ready to break. That is why so many people have cautioned against turning TT Minor into the World School. TT Minor is already an existing elementary school building in a neighborhood that could easily change the entire equation from brittle to just plain-old-tight capacity.

The issue is triage. Downtown will need an elementary school. If I had it all my way, we would have list, that was very public, with all of the capacity related needs. So that the list can be triaged and forced ranked. Right now, many people can only see their corner of their world.

I believe all the different parts of town when they report capacity issues. I also remember fondly 10 years ago in 2004 trying to explain that the elementary situation in the NE was going to become brittle soon and the official SPS response was that we need to close schools and that any examination of NE capacity could wait.

I really do see both sides of this issue. Downtown will need to keep pushing for a school, or it will never happen. There are always, always, more pressing issues. New capacity takes long range planning and that is a challenge.

At the beginning of the BEX IV, the beginning plan was based on reducing overall portable usage to 5%, and that is the only reason, why there is any capacity hope, because we will mostly likely be in the 15 -20% portable range once all the BEX plans are complete.

We need more capacity and lots of it. Where should a downtown elementary fall on a list? Well, to answer that you need a list.

Ragweed said...

I think one factor to be considered is the rising cost of land downtown. If we are going to eventually need a downtown K-5, where else would it go? How much would it cost to acquire the land and build? How much more in 5 years or so when it is needed? When you factor in the land acquisition issues, 53 million might (or might not) be a bargain.

Could a downtown school also help with Capital Hill capacity issues? or is it too far from the center of the population growth?

Leonard said...

Has anyone noticed that Federal Reserve buildings have been used to house charter schools? Has anyone noticed that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Downtown Association?


"Veritas has been at the old Federal Reserve Building at 168 Jefferson Ave. Downtown."


2. "Meanwhile, the Grizzlies Academy is preparing to move into the former Federal Reserve Building off Third Street Downtown"


3. Arkansas