Voters Approved New NE K-5 School. Now What?

During the February 6th election, Seattle voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 2 which approved the Building Excellence IV Levy and provided the Seattle Public School District with much needed funds for desperately needed capital improvements to many school, such as seismic improvements, technology upgrades, and the like.  However, within Prop 2 was construction of a controversial new NE Seattle K-5 school “at Thornton Creek or equivalent additional seating capacity at another location.”  Now that voters have approved the construction of a new NE Seattle K-5 school, we try to answer the question of “Now what?”

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Yesterday,the District’s Assistant Superintendent of Operations, Pegi McEvoy, and others at the District were gracious enough to meet with me to help answer several questions that I and others had on what happens next.  Hopefully this post will answer some common questions and provide some idea of the critical steps as we currently understand them.  We’ll continue to provide updated information as we get it or as circumstances change.  For ease of understanding, I’ve tried to put the meeting into a FAQ-type format with a paraphrased summary of what was heard.  Therefore, the answers should not be construed as quotes from the School District.

Q1: The BEX IV levy stated that a new NE Seattle K-5 school would be built at “Thornton Creek or equivalent…”  Where does the siting process stand and when will we know for sure where the school will be built?
A1: The District is in the midst of narrowing down a list of potential sites that were brought to their attention for consideration.  The other potential sites the District is currently considering include: Lake City Property, Cedar Park Property, and a “Wings” alternative built off the existing Thornton Creek school.  They have already ruled out Magnuson Park, Fairview Christian School, and Bill Pierre Ford Property off Lake City as none of them worked because the sites wouldn’t be available in the time frame necessary, the property is not available at all, and/or the site doesn’t work well for an elementary school.  The siting process will need to be made by the end of March or early April in order to stay on schedule for a 2016 opening, as indicated in Proposition 2.  According to Superintendent Banda’s comments in the 2nd video below, where he introduces the Thornton Creek A/E Contract topic for discussion, he mentions that he’s requested an update on April 1st on the alternative site review process. So, presumably, the decision on “equivalent sites” will be made after that.

You can watch the Public Testimony of Satcha Dearborn Graham, representing the Wedgwood Open Space Neighborhood Coalition, discussing among other things their concerns of the ongoing siting and awarding the A/E contract.  Ms. Graham’s testimony begins at 15:17 in the following video.

You can watch discussion beginning at 35:40 in the following video regarding the Thornton Creek school, alternative site analysis, the expected community design process, and the contract for the A/E firm.  The School Board had several thoughtful questions for Ms. McEvoy and Ms. Lucy Morello as part of the process.

Q2: Who will be designing the new school, once the siting process is completed?
A2: Last night, the Seattle School Board was scheduled to vote on Architectural and Engineer (A/E) contract (Part 1 and Part 2) for the selected design firm, Mahlum, which the board approved by a 5:1 vote. Mahlum is a northwest firm who has a long history of award winning school designs, including the renovation of Nathan Hale High School.  According to the A/E contract, Mahlum would be under contract to design the new school at “Thornton Creek or equivalent.”  Therefore, the siting process can still occur and result in a different site other than Thornton Creek while not impacting Mahlum’s scope of work or fee.  Additionally, within the A/E Contract for Mahlum, it states that Heery International (office in Seattle) will be the Construction Manager for the project.  Heery also specializes in educational facilities and has a broad portfolio of recently completed projects throughout the Northwest.  Other specialty consultants, such as traffic engineering and analysis, have not been contracted yet by the District.

Q3: Why is a new NE Seattle K-5 School necessary?
A3: The District continually monitors school capacity needs and expected enrollment with the help of a demographer.  Using their draft capacity numbers (soon-to-be-released), the District currently has about 300 students between View Ridge Elementary, Thornton Creek Elementary, and Wedgwood Elementary who’s home rooms are portables.  This means that there is currently enough students between those 3 elementary schools for a stand alone elementary.  Additionally, by 2020/21, the District is forecasting additional capacity needs of approximately 1,000 elementary students for the Eckstein Service Area.

Q4: What role can the community play in making the new NE Seattle K-5 School as successful for the students, the neighborhood, and the District as possible?
A4: The District’s typical design process includes a design advisory committee comprised of teachers/educators and other stakeholders.  The District has assured us that the community will be part of that process, although the exact size and make up of that committee is not known yet.  The WCC intends to make sure that the Wedgwood Open Space Neighborhood Coalition and the immediate neighbors have a voice on that committee. Additionally, the District expects the Parks to be part of the process too as well as the little leagues who use the play fields. We also understand that Thornton Creek staff may be part of the committee as well.

As Ms. McEvoy stated in her discussion of the Thornton Creek design process in the video above, we have asked that prior to beginning the conceptual design process, that the Mahlum and the District hosts a community design charrette to capture ideas of what the neighborhood would like to see with any design moving forward so that any design includes these features to their greatest extent practical.  This also allows everyone in the community the opportunity to be part of the process.  Based on Ms. McEvoy’s comments, this early community design charrette is likely to occur although the Mahlum (the A/E firm) was not under contract at the time. Once the design process begins, the District will host a public online portal with the project drawings and information to keep the community informed on the project status.

We also asked the District for the community to be part of the naming process.  The District has a policy for naming new buildings and every building name requires School Board approval, but they thought the community could be part of that decision.  Our local historical guru, Valarie Bunn, has already begun to look into the naming of the old Decatur School and other naming origins. More info on this will be sure to come.

Additionally, there will be parallel SEPA processes with the District acting as the SEPA lead and the City completing its own SEPA process.  Therefore, there will be ample opportunities for formal public notification and official comments to be submitted by the community throughout the design and permitting process for the new school.

We stressed to the District that where ever possible and reasonable, we would expect the District to involve the community and seek their participation so that we can achieve a successful school for everyone.  We will continue to remind the District of this and seek ways for the greatest community participation.

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