New School Proposed At Thornton Creek Site. PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD END APPROACHING

UPDATE 1: HERE is the link to the presentation materials used during the District’s 3 community meetings in April 2012 regarding the BEX IV Capital Levy.  Of particular note, slides 7 and 8 show a projected increase of over 800 seats in elementary and almost 900 seats in middle school by 2020.  The presentation materials also project an increase of $4 – $225 additional cost per year, per home owner depending upon which action alternative the District chooses.

The public elementary and middle schools in NE Seattle and around Wedgwood are packed and enrollment continues to grow.  This isn’t news (see HERE, HERE, and HERE).  The Seattle Public School District (District) has been working on capacity management planning for some time now with periodic public meetings with each new iteration of their plan.  K-5 enrollment projections for the Eckstein Service Area, shown on Page 3 HERE, estimate 570 more students by the 2015-2016 school year (4,029 students in 2011/2012 to 4,599 students in 2015/2016).  As a result of this surging enrollment, the District feels as though portables alone cannot solve the demand and a new school is necessary.  So, in February 2013, the District is planning on including construction of a new K-8 school on the Thornton Creek Elementary School site as part of the Building Excellence IV (BEX IV) Capital Levy.

This past Saturday, I spoke with Harium Martin-Morris, the School Board Member for District III (Wedgwood’s district).  Mr. Martin-Morris emphasized the need for this new school at this particular site.  The specific details for the new school are not yet known, but it is proposed to be a K-8 school for 650 to 800 students (per conversation with Mr. Martin-Morris).  The new school would be an Attendance Area school while the existing Thornton Creek School would continue as an Alternative School.  While we have not seen any site plans for the new K-8 school, Mr. Martin-Morris explained that the school would generally be located where the current ball fields are located.

The District has begun the environmental review for three different action alternatives along with a No Action alternative within its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.  Under each action alternative, the new K-8 school is included.  The Wedgwood Community Council is still collecting information on this proposal and has decided to refrain from endorsing or opposing this proposal.  Instead, the WCC will only attempt to provide accurate information to the community from both sides so parents and neighbors can make their own decisions.

As part of the project’s environmental review, the public comment period ends this Friday, May 25th.

Written comments in regards to the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement can be sent to the following address:

Noel Treat, SEPA Responsible Official
John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence
2445 3rd Ave. South
Seattle, WA 98134

or by email to:  jawolf@seattleschools.org

We will provide more details and updates as we get them.  In the mean time, let us know what you think about a new school on the Thornton Creek Elementary site.

14 thoughts on “New School Proposed At Thornton Creek Site. PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD END APPROACHING

  1. I understand the need for a new school in the neighborhood, but I hope it will not be placed along 40th Ave. NE, both because it is an arterial and for the safety of the children. It will be a shame to lose the wonderful play field used by so many.

  2. I also worry about losing that well-used playfield. My son went to AEII and the playfield was well-used for recess, the school’s walk-a-thon, etc. It seems to me that the site will be really crowded with 2 schools in that close proximity, especially if you add parking to it.

  3. The ball fields are goners, the bus traffic will go up massively and that’s too bad. Good for families with kids who can stay in their neighborhoods but it’s going to get denser and busier and no more long walks south of 85th for me anymore.

  4. Change is coming and we should prepare. I do see the point of the previous 2 commenters, it is a bit crowded to put 2 schools on a single lot (although I don’t get the comment about traffic and safety since the site already houses a school). I’m still puzzling through why they don’t phase out the alternative program in favor of the “vanilla” program to house more students. Isn’t this alternative stuff the role of charter schools and nonprofits?

  5. The comment about traffic and safety is very relevant since the proposed new school will have 650-800 students. Right now there are around 300 students at Thornton Creek. This means with the combined populations there could be 1000+ students at the location. The current infrastructure is insufficient to get all of these students to and from school without major headaches for bus drivers, parents and neighbors. Other than 40th Ave NE, the streets around the school are narrow, and many do not have sidewalks. Another issue is parking for school events.

    As for “alternative stuff” being the role of charter schools and non-profits, for now charter schools are not allowed in Washington state. Alternative Education School 2 (AE2, which is what Thornton Creek was known as until 5 years ago) is a perfect example of why public schools can do what charters claim to do, just as well. It was started 40 years ago by parents who wanted greater involvement in their children’s education. You can go to the Thornton Creek website to read more about the history.

  6. Since the new student assignment plan, many schools in the northeast area have LOST students, and during the same time period, buidings have opened that are not yet at capacity. During these tough economic times, how DARE the district consider building a new building before making use of all the empty classrooms!!

  7. Utilize the buildings that already exist before building new schools: If a traditional school is needed in the Thornton Creek area to solve overcapacity issues at other schools then change the existing building to a traditional school and move Thornton Creek to a different (underenrolled) location. Families are provided free transportation to “alternative” choice schools already so the busing expense would not change. If a second NE cluster middle school is needed The existing Jane Addams building can be used for an additional NE cluster middle school.

  8. Utilize the buildings that already exist before building new schools: If a traditional school is needed in the Thornton Creek area to solve overcapacity issues at other schools then change the existing building to a traditional school and move Thornton Creek to a different (underenrolled) location. Families are provided free transportation to “alternative” choice schools already so the busing expense would not change. If a second NE cluster middle school is needed the existing Jane Addams building can be used.

  9. There are several reasons an additional school should not be located on the Thornton Creek school site: (a) there are many other equally qualified sites that will have much lower costs to accommodate both increased traffic and parking; (b) students are bused from all over the city, so why is a school needed in this very specific site; (c) property values decrease as the number of schools increases over a certain point due to the lessening of a “neighborhood feel,” and Wedgwood is at that point; (e) the ball fields are very well used and removing them would be counter to the open space plan our city professes to encourage.

  10. A neighbor told me that a school board member had come to the council to explain about the building plans for Thornton Creek school site and persuaded the council not to intervene in the plans for building an additional school there. I trust this is not true. Nevertheless, compared to the active role WCC took in the apartment building that replaced the old Jewish Community Center and the modifications that were negotiated with the builder, I don’t see that WCC has done anything about the plans at the Thornton Creek site, which has potentially a much bigger impact on our neighborhood. We who live on 40th Ave NE, facing Thornton Creek Elementary, knew nothing about it until the day before the close of public comment when some good soul left flyers on our door steps. I see now that WCC does have on its website an announcement of it, posted on May 21, four days before the close of comments.

    What has happened here? Doesn’t the potential impact of 1,000 students in a quiet neighborhood worry our council members? The Draft Programmatic EIS is like no other EIS I’ve ever seen. Where is the assessment of the impact of increased traffic, car and bus exhaust, noise of running engines, and construction? I don’t find any details about exactly where the school would be located in the current playground, where buses and cars would line up to let kids off or pick them up, plans to ameliorate negative effects, or anything else.

    Why wasn’t the neighborhood, especially those living around Thornton Creek Elementary, consulted on this early on? Some of us don’t have elementary school children and so are not linked into school discussions. Surely we should have a major say about what is done to our area, the plans for which as now outlined will undoubtedly have a negative effect on our home values. And where is the Community Club in this?

    1. Ms. Aird,
      Thanks for your great comment!

      I’m assuming in your post above that when you typed “council” in your first sentence you meant Wedgwood Community Council (WCC). If this assumption is true, then you are correct. No school board member has spoken to the WCC (as a body) or suggested that we should or shouldn’t oppose this proposal. I (Per Johnson), met with Mr. Harium Martin-Morris during his Saturday open coffee hours when he answers any questions that people have. It was in this setting that I asked Mr. Martin-Morris to explain to me what was proposed.

      The WCC has decided on our own not to take a position on this topic, as the post above explains. We have decided that our role in this issue should be to provide, to the best of our abilities, all of the information to the community as accurately as possible. Therefore, we have/are communicating to the District and the Thornton Creek Elementary Parent Group to make sure that the history of this proposal is well understood. We openly admit that we don’t have all of the information yet but are working to get that information. This includes the “logical proposal” that the Thornton Creek Elementary Parent Group proposed earlier, which Ms. Kimball speaks to in her post. As we get this information, we will share it.

      The public comment period that has just ended is for the BEX IV levy only. Should a new school at the Thornton Creek Elementary site be included in the final levy proposal that will come before voters in Feb. 2013, the school design itself will have to go through SEPA and there will be public comment period(s) associated with that to make sure that any impacts can be mitigated.

      We have already expressed to the District our community’s desire and willingness, should this occur, to be part of the design process early on so that the impacts that you wrote about can be minimized as much as possible.

      Not only is Thornton Creek Elementary an award winning and highly desired school with play fields that are loved by the surrounding community, but their administration has been nothing short of exemplary to the community throughout the years. Anyone who has been to a Wedgwood Community Council’s Outdoor Cinema night knows how wonderful of a space those fields and play area are and how generous the administration has been to let that event take place there.

      Again, thanks for your wonderful comment! Keep them coming! We love hearing from you and the community.

  11. I, too, am tremendously disappointed in the Wedgwood Community Council’s lack of response on this issue. I’ve been very involved in the ongoing capacity discussions in NE schools so I understand that the district is facing some large challenges there (challenges of their own making, but that’s another discussion).
    HOWEVER, there was a very logical proposal being discussed with the Thornton Creek community before the district took a huge left turn and suddenly notified them of this recent decision. (And note that the school itself only very recently found out about this as well.)

    The original discussions centered around a new building for TC to hold 450 students that would replace the current structure. Given that the enrollment is headed that direction anyway, with the new portables already on site, this new construction seems like it would have provided some opportunities to improve the parking/bus/traffic flow, not worsen it. Now not only will TC lose its play field and be forced to find a way to make a significantly smaller space work for a combined number of almost 1,000 children at recess, but the community faces a huge influx of traffic and parking issues. The district is trying to find the quickest way to get bodies in seats–they care not about the long term ramifications for our community. It’s our job to speak up and let them know that this is not the solution.

    To the community members who think that kicking TC out would solve things, I suggest you learn a little more about the school. It has huge waiting lists, is one of the most successful schools in the district, and is under pressure to grow because of its success. I would hope that you would support having such a wonderful school in your neighborhood rather than thinking that a “vanilla” replacement would be better for the children. It will always be full and is a tremendous asset to families in this area.

    I hope the community council will rethink their neutral stance. Making deals to keep the peace with the school board–or whatever the motivation might be–is not the way to represent the community.

  12. My husband and I read with interest your article of May 21, 2012, regarding the new school proposed at the Thornton Creek site. Your comment that the Wedgwood Community Council has decided to refrain from endorsing or opposing this proposal is curious based on what I understand to be the Wedgwood Community Council bylaws and the Wedgwood Vision Plan.

    What is the purpose of the Wedgwood Community Council? According to the Bylaws, Article II, Purpose, especially Sec. 4, a purpose is to be the official voice for the community and to join with other community organizations to study and influence issues of mutual concern. Sec. 4 of Article V: Meetings, states that on any issue within the purpose of the organization, the WCC may, by majority vote, form a position to support, propose, or oppose any action. Could the WCC reconsider the issue of the new school proposed at Thornton Creek Site? Could it be taken up at a future meeting, preceded by appropriate publicity throughout the community, and a forum for open discussion provided before a final WCC decision is made?

    As the boundaries of the Vision Plan area extend to NE 75th St and 45th Avenue NE, it clearly includes the Thornton Creek School and property. It seems that the proposed new construction at the TC site is an issue that fits well within what we as a community made clear in the development and adoption of the vision plan that we value and wish to preserve about our community:

    “A woodsy, small town within the city where single-family homes, park areas, and gardens surround a vibrant and human-scale commercial/multifamily district, serving residents’ day-to-day needs and including open space for community gatherings, and

    “a safe and pedestrian-friendly community that welcomes diversity and where a commitment to sustainability is everywhere apparent.

    What are some of the qualities we value most, according to the Vision Plan?

    Open Space and Community Amenities,
    G-1 Wedgwood will have a variety of neighborhood parks and o open spaces that can be easily and safely accessed.
    G-3 Wedgwood will have regular community events that bring neighbors together, such as:
    b. Outdoor movies.

    Transportation and Street Improvements,
    T-2 Residential areas of Wedgwood will be safe and walkable, with:
    b. Safe routes to school.
    c. Traffic calming.

    Residential Neighborhoods and Housing,
    R-3 Wedgwood’s residential neighborhoods will be safe and peaceful

    During discussion, asked the importance of Favored Single-Family
    Quality, 98.2% said “Quiet” was either very important, i important or somewhat important.

    Community Sustainability,
    Statements
    CS-1 Wedgwood will be a place where neighbors can brainstorm b solutions and work together to address and resolve issues.

    We realize there are many important issues before the Wedgwood Community Council. I cannot envision one more important or urgent than facing head-on the incredible, negative impact of adding a new 650-student school in our quiet, residential community. The increase in traffic, congestion, noise, density, disruption of safe walking routes to school and the elimination of open space will irrevocably change the nature of what we value and why we live in Wedgwood.

    In summary, we are asking:
    • that the WCC reconsider the decision to not take a position on the issue o of the new construction proposed at the Thornton Creek site

    • that the WCC publicize and hold an open forum to gain a consensus of community opinion on the impact of the proposed new school

    • that the WCC work together with the community to “brainstorm solutions and…address and resolve issues.”

    Thank you for your consideration.

    1. Carole,
      What a wonderful and well reasoned comment. Thank you very much. There’s a lot to digest from this, but very aptly timed too. As you pointed out, the WCC has chosen not to take a position on the school. That does not mean that we are sitting on the sidelines and will not pursue some of the bullet points that you’ve called out (although that may not be clear from what we’ve written about to date). In our opinion, the complexities of this proposed school, if it were to be built, is much more than just the immediate (SE Wedgwood) impacts given the fact that the District has gone to neighborhood-based schools. Some of these complexities, and more information, will be shared in the coming week(s). I promise. So make sure to check back soon. And sincerely, this was a wonderful comment. Thanks

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