Laurelhurst Elementary Fighting Back on Portables
The Laurelhurst Blog has done a notable job in covering the issue of portables at Laurelhurst Elementary. This is an issue that many schools have struggled with, both recently and long-term. Here's one school's story.
They got their first portable last June.
Some neighbors and school children were heard commenting about why the portable was put right in the highly used kickball/soccer area and not in a four square court right beside the Laser portable, since there are already several four square courts.The district never did say why the portable was placed where it was.
One student said "I can't believe it was put in our soccer field, where so many of us play. Now what will we do?"
But then, it disappeared. From a letter from the Laurelhurst PTA in late August 2014:
You may have also noticed that this same new portable recently disappeared. What happened?
Before it was fully made ready for occupancy, the City of Seattle informed the school district that the portables actually put our building 3% over the 35% maximum lot coverage allowed for a school in our neighborhood.
The district intends to proceed with the departure request, but this process will take some time. Since new portables are in short supply and badly needed at many schools, rather than leave it unoccupied at Laurelhurst, it has been relocated.By November, the district didn't just want one portable; they wanted to put in four.
The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) is seeking neighbors, living within 600' of Laurelhurst Elementary School to apply by December 17, to be on the School Design Departure Advisory Committee, to help with deciding if up to four more portables in total, should be added to the North and already small South playground.In speaking out, neighbors and Laurelhurst parents noted that Laurelhurst has the smallest lot size of all 11 NE elementaries and the highest building:lot ratio.
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is requesting a zoning departure that, if approved, would permanently increase building lot coverage to up to 45%, significantly above the current limit of 35%, allowing the addition of up to four new portables, resulting in significant loss of playground space at the school.
Echoing the conversation that is currently on about lunch/recess time, they also point out:
Loss of recreational space for existing children cannot be minimized or dismissed. Healthy bodies and healthy minds are linked. Obesity rates are climbing, and kids need more movement. Playground social skills are also a place where academic rankings are set aside for good fun, and away from electronics.By Feb. 2015, a committee had been formed by the City to serve on the Design Departure Advisory Committee.
There were a couple of meetings for public input and then there was the meeting this week.
A packed room of almost 200 people attended last night's Design Departure Committee Meeting, at Laurelhurst Elementary School, where the Seattle Public School District (SPS) presented their reasons in requesting a waiver from City zoning regulations to allow up to four additional portable classrooms, increasing the allowed lot coverage of 45% on the two playgrounds.The outcome (bold mine)?
Almost 2 hours of public comment was heard, about 50 speakers, including students, who were each given two minutes for their testimony. Every single speaker spoke passionately against increased lot coverage at the school which would have resulted in a significant decrease in playground space, as well as permanent livability impacts to surrounding neighbors.
The Committee passed two motions, both 6-1 (School District representative voted no on both):
1) in favor or making a decision at the meeting last night, thus voting against no further meetings
2) in denying the proposal for additional portables at the school
Holly Godard, Department of Development (DPD) Land Use Planner, said at the close of the meeting that DPD is not required to accept the recommendations of the Committee. DPD will review the meeting summary report that Steve Sheppard, with the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), will prepare within 30 days, that will first be circulated to Committee members to review and approve.As for Principal Sarah Talbot, she was a no-show:
The report will then be submitted to DPD who will makes its determination on the proposed departure and SPS can accept or reject it. One attendee said there was some talk of the School District going to the Hearing Examiner to appeal the decision if it stands as it did last night.
Noticeably absent from the important meeting was the School Principal, Dr. Sarah Talbot, placed at the school this year, who was in favor of additional portables. Several teachers and administrative staff were in the audience.
Parents told the Blog Staff that Principal Talbot should have attended as the leader of the school and liaison with the Seattle Public School District, where such an important, long-lasting decision was being discussed and voted on, even though she and the majority of parents "were not all on the same page."
Parents also remarked that they were disappointed that Principal Talbot was not present to hear the numerous thoughtful and articulate public comments , including those from the student body, that pertained not only to the specific issue but to her overall role as principal, which "could have helped her on so many levels to better understand parent issues and work with the community in the success of every student's education."Fascinating reading as well as one more reminder that our buildings and the land they sit on are being worked into the ground (with little routine maintenance being done).
Consider this when those BTA IV meetings come up and the district proposes spending more money on technology than buildings.