City of Seattle officials said Thursday night they intend to have a plan pounded out with Seattle Public Schools by the end of November for what happens next to the “S Path,” the curving public sidewalk between Federal and 11th Ave E that has been fenced off since the start of adjacent Lowell Elementary’s school year.
“We don’t take the situation we have at the path lightly,” Genesee Adkins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said Thursday at the second of two community meetings to discuss solutions for the path that was closed following complaints about discarded drug needles, and garbage and human waste along the leafy path next to the school.
No district officials from Seattle Public Schools attended Thursday night’s meeting.
Adkins said her department is considering a wide spectrum of responses including taking down the chain link fence if a satisfactory compromise can’t be reached with the school district. The fence was recently bolstered with a safer, more stable — but still temporary, SDOT says — installation. Like any property owner, Seattle Public Schools is responsible for maintenance along the path that is in the public right of way.
Another possibility, Adkins said Thursday night, is a vacation of the city property that would put the path in the school district’s hands and could end public access to the route. A vacation process would be complicated by public utilities including water, sewer, and drainage underneath the path. It would also require Seattle City Council approval and schools would not only have to pay for the property but also provide a “public benefit” such as opening its playground to the public.
More “middle ground” ideas, Adkins said, include an agreement to only close the path during school hours, installing a “pivot gate” that limits possible student access, or better lighting. She said a public safety analysis is also being considered that could end up in a solution that keeps a straightened version of the S Path open.
SDOT officials haven’t committed to a budget for the plan but said any costs would be “shared in some measure” with Seattle Public Schools.
Lowell Elementary serves children from across Central Seattle and is home to the district’s program for medically fragile students. Parents said they have been cleaning up garbage and dangerous needles from addicts and homeless campers for months. Adkins agreed Thursday night that the situation had reached an “acute” level and the closure was the only prudent course of action to take while longer term solutions were addressed.
Earlier in October, the first community meeting to talk about the closure featured a more contentious environment but even with the acrimony, some good ideas were raised for creative ways to solve the problems around the path.
Thursday’s meeting was a calmer affair, attended by around 20 neighbors and Lowell parents as well as a gaggle of City Hall representatives.
You can also add your feedback to SDOT officials working on the closure via firstname.lastname@example.org.