As Central Seattle’s population jump continues, Seattle Public Schools is trying to keep pace with the resulting projected increases in student enrollment via renovations to pre-existing facilities as well as construction and property acquisitions for entirely new schools. Projects slated to transform buildings on Capitol Hill and in the Central District are moving forward — despite a few obstacles — meaning in coming years the Hill will have a middle school again and the one-of-a-kind World School will have an overhauled new E Union campus.
“Overall we’re anticipating to grow by over 1,000 students per year,” said Stephan Blanford, the Seattle School Board member who oversees the district covering downtown, Capitol Hill, and the Central District.
“Most of that growth is not necessarily in the neighborhoods where we have capacity, and so we’re trying to bring capacity on as quickly as possible; more seats, more buildings.”
The downtown core is lacking in elementary or middle school facilities, despite the area’s significant population (PDF) and housing growth over the last decade, with many kids commuting to other neighborhoods — including Capitol Hill — for school.
Last summer brought about opportunity for Seattle Schools. The former Federal Reserve building on 2nd between Spring and Madison was up for grabs as a possible location for a downtown school, free of charge for both the land and the building. But, after opting to bid on the property rather than take it with strings attached (i.e $53 million in renovation costs within three years of the acquisition), the school district fell out of the game when the auction price flew past their maximum bid of $5.8 million, according to Blanford. The property’s winning bidder will pay $16 million, the Seattle Times reports.
Despite the lost bidding war, other Seattle Public Schools capital projects in the central city are moving ahead.
Seattle’s schools have been getting upgrades for over a decade now, with four levies for capital and facilities improvements having been approved by Seattle voters since 1995 as part of the Building Excellence Program [BEX]. The most recent was BEX IV, a $694.9 million dollar capital levy which Seattle voters overwhelmingly supported back in February 2013. The upgrades are focusing on increasing capacity, security, and modernizing the technology infrastructure of facilities, and the majority of the BEX IV projects are located in Seattle’s north end.
Two important Capitol Hill and Central District facilities are slated to be renovated as part of BEX IV; the T.T. Minor campus on Union at 17th and the Meany campus on 21st avenue.
World School’s new home
T.T. Minor is on the faster track of the two, with the project currently in the permitting process and a tentative construction start date in the summer. Opening goal: September 2016. But it faces at least one significant obstacle.
According to the BEX website, an appeal has been filed by community members after the completion of the State Environmental Policy Act [SEPA] checklist. A neighbor familiar with the appeal tells CHS that a perennial school district activist is behind the objection. The Seattle Committee to Save Schools and its coordinator Chris Jackins are said to be driving the appeal. Blanford told CHS area residents were concerned with perceived environmental hazards. Though we could find no public record of the meeting with schools or the Hearing Examiner, we’re told a meeting on the appeal is scheduled for Monday morning.
Schools officials don’t seem to be concerned the appeal will hold back the project.
“We’re anticipating the master use permit and building permit being ready by March or April, with construction beginning in June or July,” said Paul White, Seattle Public Schools Project Manager for the T.T. Minor renovation.
The last time construction work was done on the T.T. Minor building was back in the 60s.
90% bilingual, the World School is preparing to graduate its first year of seniors. By spring, officials plan for around 15 students to graduate from SWS. More than 30 languages are spoken by World School students.
TT Minor is currently home to a private school that plans to relocate in 2015.
Along with renovations and technological upgrades, the T.T. Minor project will add 4,500 square feet and a space to be leased to a health clinic from within the Capitol Hill community, officials say.
According to White, the World School currently operates with about 270 students, while T.T. Minor historically has held upwards of 400-700 students, meaning that there will be room for growth in the new facility.
Capitol Hill slated to get a middle school again
The Meany project is about a year behind T.T. Minor, officials say, with renovations scheduled to start in September 2016. The goal is to be ready by the beginning of the school year in 2017 when Meany will open up as a new middle school to serve around 900 students. Meany’s upgrades include re-roofing and earthquake retrofitting.
The campus is currently home to the World School and the Nova alternative high school program. Nova will return to its longtime home in the Horace Mann building on E Cherry. In November 2013, the impending Nova move forced several Africatown community programs to leave Horace Mann so construction could begin, a situation that ended in a controversial police raid of the Central District building. Nova moved from the building during the district’s budget cutbacks following the economic downturn in the late 2000s.
Both the Meany and the T.T. Minor upgrade projects are estimated to cost around $14 million a piece.
While many Seattle schools are getting upgrades, Blanford said that the district is still in the market for more property, particularly in the downtown area. He said any other property acquisitions would have to first be put to the vote.
“We’re constrained by the fact that we have a levy, and we’ve told the voters of Seattle that we’re going to build projects in a particular order,” he said. “If the opportunity comes to get a different building, that would have to be put in front of the voters.”