Describing the solution as a unique one-off — not precedent-setting — officials finally have a back-to-school plan to reopen the Lowell Elementary S Path — the short, curving pathway connecting Federal and 11th Ave E that has been fenced off since the start of last school year due to safety concerns over homeless camping and drug use.
“It’s a little bit of a special snowflake,” Seattle Department of Transportation’s Genesee Adkins tells CHS.
The path joins a South Seattle school playground that doubles as a public park and a West Seattle school’s daily closure of a neighborhood street to allow safer student movement among the few unique agreements forged by SDOT with Seattle Public Schools over restricting access to the public right of way.
Officials expect the path to be reopened in time for the start of the school year in September. No property is being acquired and no money will change hands. “There is no change to the right of way,” Adkins said.
The decision for the Capitol Hill path was not made lightly. Months of community meetings and behind the scenes work by SPS to arrive at an appraisal of the path’s value for a possible acquisition by the district played out, keeping the short but useful path closed through last school year and this summer. Ultimately, SPS decided the price tag and the public process required to vacate the city property would be too rich for the economically challenged district.
Lowell Elementary serves children from across Central Seattle and is home to the district’s program for medically fragile students. Parents rallied last year about garbage and dangerous needles from addicts and homeless campers left along the path. SDOT agreed with SPS to close the path to start the school year. City officials met with community members and school parents last fall to hear concerns about the path’s dangers — and the desire to restore the public route near the school. The community response showed “how important to them having public access was,” Adkins said.
The compromise to reopen the path, SDOT tells CHS, will close the route to the public during school hours — from a half hour before the morning bell to a half hour after. The rest of the time, there will be “no keypad, no barriers,” Adkins said.
SDOT has cleared brush from the route and made improvements to the path’s lighting. The school has also reportedly added its own lighting and security surveillance to the area around the path.
There are still some sticking points to work out. Adkins said SDOT is working with the district to permit a locking fence or gate to block the path during the closure hours. Schools will have an employee tasked with locking and unlocking the gate each school day. “If we say it is going to be open or say it is going to be closed, it is,” Adkins said. Still, SDOT must also finalize appropriate signage with the district — including how best to let people know what to do and who to call if the path’s locking/unlocking plan falls through the cracks.