Magnolia or Seattle Center;Where Should a New High School Be Located?

Here's a very comprehensive look at the situation over in Magnolia at Fort Lawton as written by Outside City Hall's George Howland, Jr.

It comes down to this:
Twenty-eight acres of surplus federal property should be a great opportunity for Seattle. Instead, it shows signs of becoming a terrible civic imbroglio. I fear that the interests of homeless people will be lost in the melee.

The feds have also designated the city of Seattle as the Local Redevelopment Authority for the site. The city can have the land for free provided it be used for public purposes like housing, a school or a park.
So again, like the situation with the former Federal Reserve building in downtown, the feds are offering this land first for public uses. 

There are three things that could be done:

  • Mayor Ed Murray’s proposal is to build a new 235-unit affordable-housing development, including 85 studios for homeless seniors, next to Discovery Park. 
  • The majority of the 2,000 public comments on the proposal support a new public high school on the site. 
  • There is also significant public support for using the surplus land to enlarge Discovery Park from 534 acres to 562 acres.
Reading Howland's accounting of what the space would be like for homeless and low-income folks, I think it's great. 
Murray’s new development would include the following: 85 studios for homeless people who are 55 or older, 75-100 apartments of workforce housing (available to, for example, a single person who has an income of $40,000 or less—60 percent of the area’s median income) and 50 affordable town houses available for purchase, for example, by a single person with an income of $50,000 or less—80 percent of Seattle’s median income. It would also feature 15 acres of open space including playfields, an off-leash dog area and concessions.
That's a lot of help to many people including current residents in Magnolia.  My only concern - as others have pointed out - is that Magnolia is an isolated area with not-great bus service. 

Howland points out that there seems to be little public support for this idea in Magnolia which I find puzzling.

What about a new high school:
Using Fort Lawton to expand Discovery Park has significant support from the Discovery Park Community Alliance. Its leader, Elizabeth Campbell, led the successful 2008 court battle. She says about the current fight, “The city is dealing with people who have money and are active in the community.” Their neighborhood support and their ability to tie up the city in court should not be discounted.
There is now a Fort Lawton School Coalition group that has sprung up and they have a petition.
This petition is asking for the City of Seattle/Seattle City Council to direct the Office of Housing to partner with the Seattle Public Schools to create a fifth alternative that assesses the impact of a school along and additional park space. 

We promote the importance of including contiguous green space to sustain and promote wildlife in this critical habitat.
I note that the article states that the City and the district are talking about this together which is good to hear. 
This fall, the city can add a school alternative in the next step of the Fort Lawton EIS. The Office of Housing’s Alvarez says the city and Seattle Public Schools are now seriously evaluating Fort Lawton as a site for a new high school. “We are doing our due diligence with Seattle Public Schools,” Alvarez says.

If the school district decides that it wants Fort Lawton, city hall will seriously consider it. The city council knows the public schools are struggling and won’t want to be a roadblock.
If the school district doesn’t want the site, the Fort Lawton School Coalition is already lawyering up and may well mount a court battle.
Howland then explains the capacity issues in SPS and notes that the district is already talking about a downtown high school.  Now I thought those were behind-the-scenes discussions but apparently Flip Herndon has said this in public. 

The article in the Queen Anne/Magnolia news also has some other interesting statements from Herndon like if they put Center School in a new high school, it might "diminish" Center's program.  As well, he says that they are talking to developers about space for a downtown elementary school. 
Out of 78 Seattle neighborhoods analyzed by, Magnolia ranks 11th with its population of 3,500 children.
Currently, Memorial serves as the home stadium for four Seattle schools that do not have their own facilities (the reopening of Lincoln will bump that number to five).
At last week’s Uptown Alliance meeting, SPS Associate Superintendent of Facilities and Operations Flip Herndon discussed the potential of adding a 1,500-seat high school in the neighborhood on the site of Memorial Stadium. At last week’s Uptown Alliance meeting, SPS Associate Superintendent of Facilities and Operations Flip Herndon discussed the potential of adding a 1,500-seat high school in the neighborhood on the site of Memorial Stadium
Currently, Memorial serves as the home stadium for four Seattle schools that do not have their own facilities (the reopening of Lincoln will bump that number to five).
At last week’s Uptown Alliance meeting, SPS Associate Superintendent of Facilities and Operations Flip Herndon discussed the potential of adding a 1,500-seat high school in the neighborhood on the site of Memorial Stadium. At last week’s Uptown Alliance meeting, SPS Associate Superintendent of Facilities and Operations Flip Herndon discussed the potential of adding a 1,500-seat high school in the neighborhood on the site of Memorial Stadiu


Eric B said…
FYI, the need for and potential sites/boundaries for a "downtown" high school are on the HS Boundaries Task Force agenda, I believe for decision later in the fall. One thing I would caution about is the people who are saying now "Wouldn't it be great if this was a _____ focus high school" If you're going to support it being a school, support it being a school, not a particular focus. There is a very long time before the school would open, and I think that giving a particular focus now is probably a mistake. By the time it goes on the BEX levy for construction, it may have a focus. On the other hand, Lincoln is about 2 years from re-opening and doesn't (as far as I know) have a focus.
Anonymous said…
After Lincoln reopens as a high school, and Ingraham adds 500 seats, and a possible downtown high school being eyed as well, is another high school really a priority?

It doesn't seem like a great spot for homeless and/or low income housing, though... I would think a higher "walk score" would be one of the requirements for siting that type of housing...

Not sure either proposal makes a ton of sense.

my cents
Lynn said…
Not after a downtown high school - instead of it. Building at Fort Lawton must be cheaper than building a school with a stadium on the roof in the Memorial Stadium location.
Anonymous said…
Fort Lawton seems like a better location for a school than housing. How are these seniors, etc supposed to get to the store etc? I have driven there for summer camps many summers and it seems very isolated for low income housing.

Anonymous said…
Why doesn't the city and school district do a land swap? The district and the city own property throughout Seattle. Some places are easily accessible by public transit and for amenities like affordable grocery store, closer to hospitals and social services. The city could put these types of housing there. The school district owns a shopping mall on Aurora. It's a big site.

The Downtown Seattle Association will not want the city's homeless or low income at Memorial Stadium. It wants to keep the poor out of downtown, even though the social services and food banks are nearby. It wants an elite, small version of Stuyvesant or Bronx HS of Science. It makes no secret of this. Infrastructure built on the public dime has worked well forvdowntown. Its lobbyists are powerful and it has very rich, very connected people on the board and in the background.

This isn't about affordable housing. Magnolia had many more units for low income residents and those with housing vouchers a decade ago. Those older units disappeared as the city encouraged massive growth and MFTE - which means developers get a nice tax break for 12 years if they include 20-25% of the newly built units at reduced rate (not less than 60% median income, 1 person has to make more than 40K). There was no similar tax incentive for landlords to keep their affordable older units- that I could find. This MFTE program got audited and was dinged for failure to comply. And some of these buildings were found to be discriminatory by the city's own investigation. You can google all of this. You can read through the U-district up-zone and all the initial publicity on more housing and how this will bring cost down, etc. That upzone will be mostly offices, not housing.

Be careful when you go in and applaud the city's effort on affordable housing. It's way too little and way too late. People warned the city of this tsunami affordable housing loss 10 years ago. The old Real Change had articles on this. Talking about it now and scattering this into neighborhoods and making it a local neighborhood issue will not fix anything.

A school with space benefits the whole city. It's too late for my family since the last will graduate shortly and we're moving out of Seattle anyway. But I've worked in the social service sector and it's no accident Seattle is where it is today on the homeless, drug crisis, and lack of affordable housing.

Anonymous said…
I will also add those cheap, affordable rental units in Magnolia ten years ago were dispersed, but were close to the Dravus bridge and 15th Ave, making it accessible to multiple bus lines. By mixing income levels, that area had newcomers and older residents, working families and fixed income retirees, as well as those on SSD and with section 8 housing voucher

Today, the new builds are very much like what you see in Ballard. Big demographic change.

Anonymous said…
Given that the school district is re-opening Lincoln and also has said it will build a new full scale high school at Seattle Center, I'm wondering if a 3rd high school is really needed. I'm hoping people more knowledgeable about enrollment projections than me will jump in.

And I'm not trying to start a debate about what should happen with the Fort Lawton site in Magnolia - I'm genuinely curious about whether two additional high schools will be enough - or if a 3rd is needed. And if a 3rd high school is needed, is Magnolia the right spot given that the district is planning on opening schools opening in Wallingford (Lincoln) and lower Queen Anne (Center).

Lynn said…
The district is considering a new high school on the Memorial Stadium site - no decision has been made. This is the time to consider whether there is a better location for the next high school after Lincoln.
Anonymous said…
When schools are having to cut teacher/ staff positions due to lack of funds, why are we even talking about building a new high school? Let's fully fund what we have first before adding another school that will take its share of a limited pool of dollars.
My 2 cents
Anonymous said…
They could sell the building to Lakeside since it will likely cater to those interested and able to get to specialized educational opportunities located way out in what I call Mongolia. Fort Lawton is a pain to access any which way you try.

No LawtonHigh
Anonymous said…
Building new buildings comes from a different pot of money than funding teacher salaries does. And overcrowded schools require more staffing than schools at capacity- it is cheaper to build a new high school than to overcrowd the ones we have.

The last I recall after we built Lincoln and added onto Ingraham, we would still be over a 1000 seats short, and there is also a geographical mismatch. Whatever theoretical room we have is in the south end, and the students are in the north. Those are older projections and only went through 2019. Past time to be thinking beyond that.

Eric B said…
I think this is clear by now, but the Magnolia site would be instead of Seattle Center. They're still calling it a Downtown School, even though it's not really downtown. Both sites have challenges for being a school, but the district can't ignore the possibility of free land.

Job 1 of the boundaries task force is to determine if a school is still really needed. Job 2 is to take a stab at what the boundaries could maybe be. That might be far enough in the future that it might not be worth the effort. the building would be funded under BEX V, and I can't imagine that the new high school would go before a Rainier Beach renovation. That puts it toward the end of BEX V, with maybe a 2023-2025 opening date, and I don't think we have the prediction power to look that far ahead.
Eric, I personally think Flip is pretty set on the high school at Memorial even though I think it is likely to cost more and be logistically difficult.

I have to wonder what people on Queen Anne think of going to Magnolia for high school.

And you nailed it on RBHS; the optics would be terrible if the district built a new high school downtown and not RBHS first. And, RBHS is not going to settle for some modest $50M redo; while it would be built as a smaller building, it better look/feel as snazzy as Garfield or Roosevelt (albeit not a historical rebuild which will save the district money).
Joe Wolf said…
The Seattle Center site has adjacencies to:

- Seattle Rep
- Intiman Theatre
- McCaw Hall (Seattle Opera/Philharmonic)
- The teaching arm of SIFF

The new high school will be a 1600 seat campus. Locating it at Fort Lawton means only a few of the most affluent students assigned to it would live nearby.

This is not a difficult choice.
Joe Wolf said…
Eric - SPS owns the land at Seattle Center. I'm confused as to your "free land" comment.
Joe Wolf said…
Regarding costs:

Memorial Staidium will need to be replaced regardless. Saying it makes the Seattle Center site "more expensive" is a straw man argument.
Joe Wolf said…
It's interesting and telling that there was no huge upswell for a school at Fott Lawton until the city got serious about developing homes for low-income folks there.
Well, Joe, the same things were said for Center School and now their art focus is weakened and diluted. Even with Center being right there at Seattle Center, the district couldn't get the connections made to support that school. I'm not sure I believe it would be better for the next high school.

Thanks for letting Eric know about the district owning the land at Seattle Center - that is correct (and I think the City really hates that but alas, nothing they can do about it).

Eric B said…
I knew that Memorial Stadium was SPS-owned land and I'd picked up the possible NIMBY aspect to the discussion. All I was saying is that if there is free land available in a city with extremely high land values, SPS would be foolish not to look at it. It's entirely possible that Ft Lawton is a terrible place for a new high school and Memorial Stadium is better. The opposite is also possible. It's possible that there isn't a need for a new high school at all. Until we look at the actual sites and numbers, not to mention thinking about transportation and other issues, we won't really know. The current action is basically to keep SPS in the running and able to say yes or no at a later date.

What Flip said at the boundaries task force meeting was that SPS is never going to be able to buy land for a school. SPS doesn't have the money and doesn't have the ability to respond fast enough to beat out Amazon (or whoever) for a 20-acre parcel. Absent another piece of land coming available (which Ft Lawton did a couple of weeks later), SPS was basically going to have to build on Memorial Stadium because they don't have any other land they can use in approximately the right areas. I don't think any of that is controversial or a surprise.

To me, a better site would be the National Guard Armory facility on 15th W, but I don't know if that is even in the cards for being surplused right now.

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Who Is A. J. Crabill (and why should you care)?

Why the Majority of the Board Needs to be Filled with New Faces