The School District Significantly Revised Plans for the NE Seattle K-5 School

As you may recall, last month we posted a summary of a meeting we had with Ms. Pegi McEvoy and others with the Seattle Public School District about the process for design and construction of the new NE Seattle K-5 School. The new NE Seattle K-5 school is being constructed following the overwhelming approval of Proposition 2 by Seattle voters in November 2012. While the 650 student school had originally been proposed for construction on the Thornton Creek Elementary site, local opposition from neighbors opposed to the loss of open space at the school successfully lobbied the District to modify the language within the BEX IV levy program to the following:

Northeast Seattle elementary school: To meet growing capacity, add K-5 school on Thornton Creek site by 2016 or equivalent additional seating capacity at another location.

Due to this modified language and an agreement to complete a review of additional, potential sites or options provided by the community. At last month’s School Board meeting, District staff committed to presenting the results of their review to the Superintendent on Monday, April 1st. On Tuesday, April 2nd, the District published the results of their Capital Projects and Planning website and summarized their new recommendation to the School Board.  Our summary of this revised recommendation is provided below. However, to understand this revised recommendation, it may be helpful to provide a brief history of this particular new K-5 school (so far as we’re aware).

Brief History

In June 2012 I met with a member of the Thornton Creek Site Council who explained from their perspective how the District arrived at their recommendation to build at new 650-student K-5 (at that time a K-8) school on the Thornton Creek site.  It was explained to me that in response to larger enrollment and District capacity management planning, the District wanted to bring in 4 new portables over a 4 year period and expand the enrollment of Thornton Creek Elementary school.  Thornton Creek staff and parents thought that this proposal would hurt their program.  After some public meetings, the District countered with a request that the school expands their geo-zone (e.g., where students are preferentially chosen from).  The intent was to have Thornton Creek Elementary accept more students from the attendance areas of Wedgwood, Bryant, and View Ridge elementary schools.  Also, new portables would also be added at Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Olympic View elementary schools. By December 2011, Ms. McEvoy asked Thornton Creek staff and its Site Council if it would be willing to become a K-8 school to also alleviate capacity needs at Eckstein Middle School.  In response, the Thornton Creek Site Council said that it would grow up to 500 students if the District built them a new building on their site. The District never responded to the Site Council’s counter offer. Instead, the District proposed a new 650-student K-8 attendance area school within its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which has since been revised to a new K-5 school.  Thornton Creek Elementary, an option school, would have remained in its existing building at the site.

Revised Recommendation

As we understand it, the District’s revised recommendation is essentially to build the new 650 student NE Seattle K-5 School at the Thornton Creek School site and then move the Thornton Creek Elementary program into the new school.  If capacity forecasts remain the same, the plan will likely include demolishing the existing the existing Decatur building once the new school was built.  It’s important to understand that this is only a recommendation at this point and no decisions have been formally made (to our knowledge).

Upon learning of this revised recommendation, we sent the following questions to the Ms. McEvoy and others at the District to clarify their new recommendation. Below are our questions and District responses.

Q1: Why did it take the District this long to acknowledge the Thornton Creek Parent’s Group’s offer to accept Ms.McEvoy’s counter offer, if that is what this recommendation is?
A1: Annually, the District receives updated resident enrollment projections in February.  In order to ensure that the most current information was used for this important decision, the District decided to wait to make recommendations about the NE school configurations.  Additionally, the School Board had asked for additional feasibility studies on which to base their decisions.  These became available in late March.

Q2: My presumption that the District did not move forward with this counter offer was that it ultimately did not provide the capacity needs that we’ve heard about throughout NE Seattle, which was required to alleviate overcrowding at Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Bryant Elementary Schools.  Does this proposal meet the District’s goals for meeting the forecasted capacity requirements in the Eckstein Service Area?  If not, are there other capital improvements expected to be required during subsequent BEX levies?
A2: Per the BEX IV levy, four schools will impact positively the permanent capacity for the NE region, including Thornton Creek, Olympic Hills, Jane Addams K-8 at Pinehurst and the remodeled Cedar Park.  With the subsequent boundary changes due to new schools being opened, the District believes that it can meet the projected capacity needs in the NE Seattle area.

Q3: Should this proposal be accepted by the Board, should we presume that Thornton Creek Elementary would become an attendance area school or remain an alternative school?  Would Thornton Creek Elementary also become a K-8 program, as it was suggested last year (per my understanding)?
A3: At this time, it is recommended that the Thornton Creek Elementary program remain an option K-5 school although its geo-zone may be updated during the future student assignment plan updates to help alleviate over-enrollment at nearby elementary schools.

Q4: Within the BEX IV levy program, approved under Proposition 2, the project that voters approved is described as follows:
Northeast Seattle elementary school: To meet growing capacity, add K-5 school on Thornton Creek site by 2016 or equivalent additional seating capacity at another location.” Does the District’s revised recommendation provide “equivalent additional seating capacity” at another location or otherwise?  Is so, great.  If not, would this recommendation meet the intent of Proposition 2?
A4: With the combined additional seat capacity for the four schools in the Eckstein service area, the revised recommendation would provide sufficient capacity to meet the current resident projections.

We weren’t the only ones caught off guard by this curve-ball-of-a-recommendation.  You can watch the School Board meeting from the evening of Wednesday, April 3rd, when many of the School Board members were just hearing this revised recommendation for the first time as part of Agenda Item 11, which was to authorize the construction management contract for Heery International, Inc to manage the construction of the new NE Seattle K-5 School.

In the following video, Ms. McEvoy introduces Agenda Items 10 and 11 with rationale for why the District awards construction management contracts for these type of projects.  The conversation that follows is focused on Agenda Item 10 though (not the new NE Seattle K-5 School).

The following video is the District’s presentation of their revised recommendation for the new NE Seattle K-5 School and their justification for the change. The School Board discussion and Q&A is very interesting.

2 Replies to “The School District Significantly Revised Plans for the NE Seattle K-5 School”

  1. This is a sad outcome for Wedgwood after months of working with the school district staff, the school board, and the superintendent, not to mention city council members, the mayor, and our legislative delegation. The school staff’s studies show the growth is to the north and west of us, where there remains school “deserts.” This means a lot of kids bused into our neighborhood as well as parents driving them. Where is there room to accommodate so many buses and cars when it is already jammed at school let-out time? The school board vote for a new 650-student school, while leaving the old school for future determination means that we could still have up to a thousand elementary school kids at Thornton Creek in an area that would then have about 3,000 elementary students in the combined Thornton Creek-Wedgwood-Bryant-View Ridge area, a small area for such a concentration, and that’s not counting the three private schools in our area. And then we lose most of our playfields as well. A sad day for Wedgwood. It will bring greatly increased traffic on all our side streets as parents try to avoid the jams on the arterials.

  2. What a strange process! First, decide there’s a capacity problem that requires a new school to be built. The decide that there isn’t after all, but keep the new school and (perhaps) demolish an older one. Is this really the best use of our limited resources? Further, is the old Thornton Creek school the building that should be chosen for replacement (apart from the fact that it just happens to be on the same site as the proposed new building)? I suspect there are other K-5 buildings that are in worse shape. Wouldn’t the money be better spent (for example) bringing the facilities at Wedgwood Elementary up to current standards? When consideration was being given to extending Wedgwood it was admittted that the gym, lunchroom and toilet facilities were all below standard. If the previous decisions are being re-opened, perhaps the question of extending Wedgwood rather than building at Thornton Creek should also be reconsidered.

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