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    A boon for Downtown's urban parents

    With development and population booming in downtown Seattle, it's about time Seattle's urban core got its own school.
    Elsie Roy capitalizes on its proximity to a park for shared play space while using a two-story layout to provide light and airy classrooms for its students

    Elsie Roy capitalizes on its proximity to a park for shared play space while using a two-story layout to provide light and airy classrooms for its students Elsie Roy Elementary

    Elsie Roy Elementary – located south of David Lam Park.

    Elsie Roy Elementary – located south of David Lam Park. Pic 2 Fly


    Many cities, faced with increasing populations and a growing demand for urban living, are moving toward making their downtowns welcoming residential neighborhoods for families with children. Seattle is no different. In the last year, a new and exciting effort among government and private sector leaders has emerged to respond to downtown Seattle's changing demographics.

    Since 1990, downtown Seattle’s population has grown by over 70 percent according to census data, making it the fastest growing neighborhood in Seattle within the last two decades. The overall population has increased by 25,000 new residents, and the neighborhood is now home to over 1,700 children 15 and under, and more than 3,000 children 19 and under. These are not small numbers. Downtown Seattle has welcomed more residents in the last 20 years than downtown San Francisco, Portland, Denver, San Diego and many other U.S. peer cities.

    Developers are rushing to respond to this demand, currently building or planning to break ground on over 3,000 housing units within Downtown this year, more than at any one time in the last decade. For many families though, there is still a major obstacle standing between them and downtown living: neighborhood schools.   

    Earlier this year, the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), Seattle Public Schools, and the City of Seattle began a study to determine the projected population increase of kids living downtown, as well as the demand for the future siting of what would be the first public school in downtown Seattle since the late 1940’s. The partners plan to complete the study by June of this year, in time to inform Seattle Public Schools’ six-year capital building levy, expected to appear on the February 2013 ballot.

    According to a draft scope of the study, the partners are considering "variations of K-12 public schools" in north Downtown.

    To date, the north Downtown area (Belltown/Uptown/SLU/Denny Triangle neighborhoods) has been identified as the location with the greatest potential to site a public school, given the increase in population, the opportunity to absorb increasing enrollment generated within neighborhoods north of Downtown, and the proximity of potential allied organizations and partners, including the Pacific Science Center and Cornish College of the Arts.

    In addition, the City is set for a major rezone of SLU in 2012, which could provide the opportunity to include incentives to help facilitate school development. The SLU rezone will potentially lead to new investments in housing and commercial projects, which present the opportunity for considering co-location of a school facility.

    Still in its early phases, the effort to site a new Downtown school has already been met with strong support from parents.  “It's not always easy, but we love raising our five-year-old son downtown,” says Paul Hughes, who lives in Pioneer Square. “We do give up having a yard, but we gain so much in exchange — not just the obvious stuff like being close to the downtown library and the aquarium and Seattle Center, but just the daily reality of walking around, riding the bus and the train, and eating and shopping in a bustling, diverse, unpredictable environment.” Hughes’ view is shared by a host of other Downtown parents as well.

    Analyzing Current Demand

    In focus groups conducted in March with current and former downtown parents, the Downtown Seattle Association found that although many parents strongly valued the benefits the downtown environment provided for their children, one of the primary reasons they plan or have already chosen to leave Downtown is due to the lack of a public school within the Downtown neighborhood. Current elementary school boundaries place downtown children in two schools outside the downtown neighborhood, John Hay and Bailey Gatzert – both of which are at capacity. Downtown’s share of John Hay’s overall enrollment has steadily climbed since 2007 and today nearly one in five children attending John Hay lives downtown.

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    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 6:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's nice to finally see some well-sourced numbers applied to this stated need. The School District's own enrollment projections do not show any need for a downtown school at all.

    Most of the talk about a downtown school has been about siting an elementary school there. I have to wonder where the 480 elementary-aged students in downtown Seattle are currently attending school. It would be nice to know that. Is there any interest in creating a middle school downtown as well? There already is a high school downtown, the Center School, and good transportation to just about any other high school they might choose since there are so many bus lines that radiate from downtown. Despite the significantly greater number of high school aged students (1292 over 480) that has not been expressed as a need. Why not?

    Perhaps families are more comfortable with their middle- and high school aged children traveling further to school. Maybe downtown families are just happier with their middle and high school assignments. And maybe downtown families are choosing to enroll their children at private schools instead of sending them to public school.

    Thanks to these numbers the idea merits further discussion.


    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 6:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Most of downtown, all of it north of James and west of the freeway, is in the attendance area for John Hay elementary school and McClure middle school. Both are located on Queen Anne. John Hay is well-regarded but getting very crowded. McClure has a lukewarm reputation.

    All of downtown south of Broad street is in the attendance area for Garfield High School. I think this desirable assignment, along with the willingness to pay for private high school, explains why there's no outcry for a downtown high school despite the large number of downtown children of high school age.

    Again, I wonder where these kids are currently enrolled. I would like to hear from them, as opposed to the DSA, about what they want and why.


    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

    I, too, am glad for this data. I believe that, at some point, a downtown elementary or K-8 would be a great idea and a solid investment. But the investment would need to come from all sectors, not just Seattle Schools. The downtown businesses would need to help as well as the City.

    And, unfortunately, this is not a good time for asking the district to include a downtown elementary in its BEX IV (capital levy) for Feb. 2013. Issues abound:

    - The district has no land to build anything on and certainly no money to buy an land. (They do, however, have land around Seattle Center and I believe at some point in time may entertain the idea of a comprehensive high school which Queen Anne and Magnolia have longed for and would, of course, also serve downtown students.)

    - Coolpapa is right - any planning must include a vision of how to serve a K-12 population, not just K-5. I think it would be difficult to have an elementary, middle and high school and it might make sense to have a K-8 and high school or K-5 and 6-12 middle/high school.

    - there are certainly great resources downtown that could make any school an attractive draw. Again, the City has to help figure out the play area/community center issues. (I will gently note that not all neighborhoods in Seattle have community centers so it's not like downtown is the one area without one.)

    - Usually with the capital levy (BEX), the district tries to find the worst buildings throughout the city that can be renovated and expanded. Unfortunately, in this cycle, the district has a severe capacity management issue in several areas of the city which compounds the problem of aging and tired buildings. They MUST help existing schools and existing students.

    - The district wants to ask voters for something around $700M. They will also be renewing the Operations levy for around $450M. The Operations levy represents about 23% of the district's budget (since the state can't/won't fully fund education). That's a huge amount of money to ask voters for and, as Director Carr has pointed out, it is important to communicate clearly and honestly with voters about the need.

    I can only say from my viewpoint as a public education activist that asking for a downtown school while other schools are in aging and/or overcrowded buildings would make many Seattle Schools parents very upset. We need everyone on-board to pass this very important and necessary levy.

    But there are other options and I'm sure the district, the City and the Downtown Association will talk about and consider them.


    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    When the Center School was founded in 2001, it was in part aimed toward families in Magnolia and Queen Anne, who had been bussed to Garfield and Ballard since Queen Anne High School was closed in the 1980s. There was a proposal to move the program to the Rainier Beach facility in 2008 -- part of the counter-argument was that the Seattle Center location of the school gave families in the area a 'local' high school.


    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 8:28 a.m. Inappropriate

    Data and argument are OK. What you leave out is the crumbling infrastructure and untenable, overcrowded conditions in SPS buildings all over the District. These are decade(s) old problems. With limited funds existing populations must be served first. No Lake Union school in BEX 2013. No way.

    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    A related PR point Bezos, the CEO of the main Lake Union tenant, Amazon, fought hard against the high earner income tax initiative that would have poured more $$ into schools. Many of the high flying developer types in the area agreed with him. So to punt a project to the front of the needs line for a development that could benefit these people really chaps my hide. Want a downtown school? Get your tail down to Olympia and get adequate school funding for kids all over Seattle and the state. You don't get a school on the public dime when you don't work for the good of the public school system.

    Then come back for your Downtown Civic Vision. Bah.

    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 1:22 p.m. Inappropriate

    Right now the cynical view is that downtown families fall into three broad categories:

    * very wealthy people who aren't sending their children to public school anyway

    * condo-dwelling high-tech workers who will either send their children to private school or will move out of the neighborhood when their kids reach school-age (if they can get a mortgage)

    * a few people of ordinary means (or unable to finance a move) who are just fine with their assignment to John Hay, McClure, and Garfield.

    I find it very suspicious - well, at least odd - that there's all this angst over building a K-5 school for the 480 elementary aged students and no apparent need to build a high school for the 1290 high school aged students. I also find it odd that these students didn't appear in the District's enrollment projections. More than anything else, I'm troubled by the way that this downtown elementary school has been promoted through extraordinary channels. It appeared on the BEX IV plan through a completely different route from anything else on the plan. It was leap-frogged into it by an ambitious city councilman and well-monied types in the DSA. It stinks heavily of the product of a plutocracy, not a democracy.


    Posted Fri, Jun 15, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    I"ve lived in Belltown and SLU for 15 years, but have worked in and for public education for 55 years. I urge positive consideration of a north downtown, public elementary school, based upon the need, fairness and community.
    The data provided shows that as of 2010 there were 559 children in the north downtown of the age of a k-5 school or 796 of the age for a k-8 school. And propagating ahead the bow wave of children age 0-4 and the 3000 housing units under construction, this number will rise faster than anywhere else in Seattle. The need is there now and there will be twice that need in another 10 to 15 years if we 'build it'.
    On a question of fairness, I don't have the current population, but the city projects a populations of these four neighborhoods in 2024 of about 48,000. Since that projection was made in 2004, the actual and under-construction growth is meeting those targets. This is the fastest growing area of Seattle. Those who say fix other schools are saying, let's grow this set of neighborhoods 100% in 20 years to 48,000 and let's not put any schools there. We can bus the 5 to 10 year olds to an adjacent neighborhood or maybe a whole set of neighborhoods. I don't think that is fair.
    Finally from a community standpoint, I don't think there is anything we can do that is more important than including and encouraging elementary school age children, their parents and most important their mothers. Well, maybe having a public elementary school as the center of those neighborhoods, as a mixing point, as the catalyst for community ownership and civic responsibility. But the nay sayers say no, we don't need that, the school might look different, it would be hard, it might benefit somebody that doesn't deserve it. That thinking is why we're in trouble in this country.

    Follow the need, be fair and build community.



    Posted Sat, Jun 16, 11:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    Lowell Elementary School at the north end of Broadway Ave. East and at the intersection of 11th Ave. East and Mercer East on Capitol Hill has capacity for at least 200 more K-5 students now that all advanced placement programming has moved. Problem solved. Tens of millions of dollars saved. Thank you very much.


    Posted Sat, Jun 23, 2:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is a good example of how charter schools can complement rather than supplement public schools in this state. According to the Seattle Times article a few weeks back, a downtown/SLU elementary school wouldn't be online until 2019. That will do the families that currently live in our city's core no good and will shape the fabric of our urban environment over the next 5-7 years as more young families choose to move, delaying the critical mass needed to tip the scales to a more family friendly urban core. A private operator would be able to rent space and open a downtown elementary school within a couple years. Seattle School's capital is slow and reactive rather than pro-active, as shown by the rounds of closing schools a few years ago followed by now a need to open new ones.

    Posted Mon, Oct 14, 5:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    Lowell Elementary has solved the problem. It is an outstanding elementary school that will now serve downtown. Children in downtown will have no further to go than many of the other kids that Lowell serves and will have the same bus service. Lowell has over 200 spaces available and is an outstanding school (i.e. my children went there). Save the money from building an uncessary additional elementary program downtown and use it elsewhere.


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