If it has the cash, Seattle Public Schools wants to buy Lowell Elementary S Path

Still closed

Still closed

Seattle Public Schools is preparing a proposal that would allow the district to purchase and presumably close the “S Path,” the winding, odd little stretch of City of Seattle right of way that connects Federal and 11th Ave E that has been fenced off since the start of the Lowell Elementary school year over concerns about drug use and homeless camping.

The path may be short — but the route to the planned purchase will be a long one. And neighbors who miss their shortcut through the block might be happy to know that, at least for the short term while any proposal makes its way through City Hall, the path would likely have to be reopened and the fences that have blocked it off in recent months, removed.

According to a district spokesperson, SPS has begun the process of preparing a “street vacation” proposal but is mostly at square one. The proposal hinges on a cost estimate for purchasing the city land along the path next to Lowell. If it comes in too high, any purchase plans are off. The district was still working that estimate out as of last week, CHS was told.

In a December letter from SPS, superintendent Larry Nyland wrote about the “2017-18 Potential Budget Deficit” his district faces:

The Washington State Legislature’s failure to adequately address public education funding may result in a significant budget shortfall next school year. In 2017-18, the district’s ability to serve students in the way they deserve will be challenged. Unless the Legislature takes appropriate action to address school funding, the district has a projected deficit of approximately $74 million for the 2017-18 school year. This is the largest budget deficit we have faced since the late 1970s and has the potential to erode many of the programs, supports and services students are currently receiving.

If the plan is moving forward, the first sign might be the locked gate opening and the fences blocking the S Path coming down.

Both the district and the city say that during any vacation process, the “emergency closure” will be lifted after its implementation last year when Lowell parents and school and city officials agreed that used drug needles, condoms, and human waste had become a significant problem around the path. Seattle Public Schools is also preparing to install “cameras/lights/access control panels to increase security” on the path, CHS is told.

The typical City of Seattle vacation process can take six months or more to complete. It requires an extensive petition and review by departments and community groups. “Project information including site maps, project information, environmental analysis and other supporting information is circulated to various departments, public agencies and community groups for their review and comment on the proposed vacation,” the city’s Street Vacations page promises. After the reviews, SDOT can then pass the petition on to the City Council for a public hearing and review by the transportation committee. If the committee approves — and the full council follows suit — the deal is done.

Included in the agreement, a price meeting “full appraised fair market value is required for streets and alleys that have been a part of the dedicated public right-of-way for 25 years or more.” The proposal must also include a discussion of “public benefits” —

Provide a discussion of the public benefit proposal including how the public benefit proposal serves the general public. Include an itemized list that provides a detailed description of each element of the proposed public benefit. Benefits must be long term and must serve the general public not merely the users of the development. The public benefit must be benefits that are not required by the land use code or other regulations and for which no other development credit is sought.

Communication around the closure and subsequent planning has been a sore spot for some neighbors living near the path who were frustrated to see the fence go up with little warning and little explanation of what was happening around the closure. Casey Engler shared a letter with CHS sent to his District 3 rep Kshama Sawant and other officials about the situation. “I believe the school is using an argument of fear and then attempting to straw man the concerns of the neighborhood into ‘entitlement,'” he wrote. Engler said he received a few “thanks for your feedback” style replies and automated messages.

In December, CHS reported on the passing of SDOT’s deadline for a solution to the issues around the path. We asked SDOT’s Genesee Adkins for an update from her department on when the path might be reopened. “We’re still talking with the school district about the issue of timing,” she said. “We’ll let you know as soon as there’s an update. We’re eager to be able to do that.”

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27 thoughts on “If it has the cash, Seattle Public Schools wants to buy Lowell Elementary S Path

  1. Never underestimate the power of the ‘think of the kids’ argument at the expense of everyone else concerned. #ParentPrivilege

  2. This is a public path, on public property, that serves a public purpose. Shame on the school district and the mayor for trying to close it to the public. Why haven’t they tried basic things first like planting spiky plants?

  3. SDOT said the closure was temporary and a decision would be made at the start of December. Since the public meetings suggested that there was consensus for the path to reopen, why hasn’t it?

  4. The city vacates streets/property much larger than this. I presume anyone who is complaining about this will support the city vacating Occidental St. to build another arena. They have vacated other streets in Sodo for stadiums and properties. It said there is such hostility to parents on this blog. Parents happen to be a minority group in Seattle now by the way. I believe in parent privilege, however I believe more in kids rights and that kids should have the right to go to Lowell school without stepping on needles, sliding down play equipment with feces spread on it and possibly being harassed by people who should not be sleeping on the path. Walk around the block people, it will help you achieve your 10,000 steps a day. GO LOWELL. GO PARENTS. GO KIDS.

  5. This is a crucial right of way for our pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. Sharps can be collected; lights could be installed; it could be a violation of school rules to use the path. There are plenty of options besides a wasteful, expensive alley vacation that weighs against the interest of the public generally. Resist!

    • I bet the community could work together, raise money, and put together a better proposal than either the city or the school district to make this small public right of way a beautiful, brightly lighted safe little parklet to benefit all concerned parties. Gofundme anyone?

    • Annie: right on! There is a very simple solution to the reported problems, which have been very exaggerated by parents and school staff. That is to have school maintenance staff, as a gesture of good will to the community, inspect the path each morning before the kids arrive, and clean up anything that they find. This would only take a few minutes of their time. If any actual homeless camps are found (which I have NEVER seen in years of walking by there), they could report these to the City and get them removed on a priority basis.

  6. Fear, how about my son’s backpack was stolen off the playground area at Lowell Elementary while parents and children were interacting within minutes of school ending. I found my son’s backpack and the person who took it at Mercer and Broadway. Once I gained possession of the backpack, I reached in there to check for my son’s belongings. As I opened lunchbox, expecting to find lunch scraps, I see a dozen plus needles, some used, bloodied and uncapped. As well needles rigged with heroin ready for use. Dumping out the bag revealed dozens more needles as well tools for picking locks and a meth pipe. The pathway is a danger to students, faculty, staff, parents and visitors of the school. Anyone who says otherwise must be far removed from holding concerns about child welfare and safety when their child is not in their custody.

    • It’s a public right of way. Increase lighting, clear the brush, and do a morning clean-up before school. Gates closed during school hours & open to the public when school is out.

    • Let me get this straight. You claim a junkie cooked up some junk. Then filled syringes and… set them aside for later? Hahahaha.

      Do you know how cooking junk works? No. Of course you don’t.

      No junkie has needles “prepped and ready to go filled with heroin” just sitting around. They shoot up immediately. Jesus. That is like some Reffer Madness level clueless made up bullshit.

  7. As a nearby neighbor (who has chosen to not have children), I hereby volunteer to help clear all the brush and assist in any way to keep the path open to the public. We should not let a handful of bad actors result in the closing of the path for good.

    Saturday mornings around 10 work for me!

  8. After reading the comments on here, if I ever have children, I am definitely moving to the suburbs. For the most part, the Capitol Hill community seems very anti-child to me.

    • Seeing how the comments from parents seem to be in favor of closing the path and thus preventing neighbors from using it, the only anti-____ group here appears to be them.

      I’m pro law abiding citizen, adult or kid. Let’s make it so everyone can use it.

    • I’m a parent and raised my kids on and around the hill. I think closing the path is the wrong way to approach the problem. It isn’t about being pro or anti child, and making it that seems more to be a way of name-calling your neighbors rather than hearing an opposing viewpoint.

  9. Cities take away “public right of ways” all the time. Just because some hostile, anti-children brats on this site believe it is theirs it is not. I dare all of you to do research and find out how many streets and alleys the city has vacated for what they deem a greater purpose. This is a greater purpose. The city will not prohibit drinking, drug use, sexual acts, defecating, sleeping, camping anywhere in the city so therefore this is what happens. I find this all very shocking, that entitled Capitol Hill residents are so incredibly unbending about a small inconvenience that would benefit grade school children, handicapped children, and the parents and caretakers, teachers and school workers that have to navigate that property. Of all the protests, whining, screaming, marching about issues we are exposed to up here on a daily basis, this takes the cake.

  10. The school district should worry about the budget issues and not be purchasing property at this time.
    Our mayor should take charge and rectify this situation to make the necessary improvements for the saftey of the school children and the neighborhood this should be his priority and not the school districts.

  11. I attended the community meeting held at Lowell last fall regarding the path. Many people volunteered to help keep the path clean — I’d like to see this approach tried before vacating the land and losing access to the path.

  12. This is not the first time that a street vacation has been proposed for this stretch of East Roy. In 1959, the Seattle School Board petitioned to have the street vacated in conjunction with the construction of an addition on the site of the original play area. Although 126 residents of the neighborhood signed onto the School Board’s request for a street vacation, 77 residents signed a petition protesting it because of the unnecessary inconvenience it would cause. The city ultimately declined the vacation but allowed the overpass to be built to connect the school with the new play area. The street below remained open to traffic until the early 1970s when the Board of Public Works approved a conditional use permit to allow closure of the street to facilitate improvements to the school’s play area. New landscaping within the right of way was intended to make it more attractive to pedestrians.

  13. I think SPS would have a hard time proving that the street vacation provides a public benefit. The benefits derived from most street vacations includes dedicating public plazas and things that provide fair public access and use. Closing the path to general users isn’t a public benefit. Perhaps the school district could come up with some kind of swap or maintain some kind of access, but, otherwise, I don’t think it meets the public benefit test.

    This “think of the children” rhetoric from the parents and school is pretty tired. The path has been open for years and years. Figure out a plan for safety and maintenance, make it work, and live with it. Isn’t it possible to embrace the path and use it as a learning opportunity? Lemons…lemonade…?

    • Exactly! School officials are going to be hard-pressed to come up with a “public benefit,” since a street vacation would actually be a negative thing for the public.

  14. I’ve lived near this path for over 7 years now, and I have always found it odd. It cuts the school off from their playground and people are able to cut through it? Just strange land use.

    I don’t have any kids and I have always found the “but the children!” arguement to be annoying. That being said, this should just be absorbed by the school. Give the kids a little more free space and allow the school to take ownership of that area. And as said above: walk around and get your 10,000 steps lol.

  15. I just don’t understand what the parents think this will accomplish. It will keep out law abiding neighbors that aren’t harming anyone, but by what means do they think it will help keep out the people who are leaving the trash, feces and needles. Do they suppose a sign that says it’s school property will matter to those folks? Do they plan to put up a high razor wire topped fence with a locked gate?

    If anything keeping the general public out it will just make the area a more nice, quiet, secluded space for people to camp without the public intruding on them… If anything the school should be *encouraging* more people to use the path after hours and at night to make it a far more uncomfortable place for people to squat… they should also be able encourage path users people to call the police on squatters with an expectation that something will be done…

    This isn’t really unprecedented. The school up at the top of Union has a similar pass through path. The path and the playground are closed to the public during the school day, but welcome the community after hours.

  16. The sad delicious irony of this whole idiotic debacle is kicking off the path to the neighborhood has made that area a worse protected cesspool than it was ever before. Have you seen it?!? The school did that shit deliberately and let that area fester so they can point to it indignantly and go “see!”

    Of course is a shit hole now. Because nobody can go through to clean it up.

    Look. Dumbshits. Junkies and homeless people don’t care about your signs or fences. They just climb them. Like I witnessed two crunch punk kids doing Thursday night.

    And school nor the city are cleaning it up so it just attacks more scum bags.

    The school of is playing games. The neighborhood has tried and tried and tried to work with them. For decades.

    Right now this solution suits nobody.