Youth & Education
9:16 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

A School In Downtown Seattle? School Board Will Make A Play For Old Bank Site

Seattle school officials will officially ask to move into a vacant, federally-owned building in the heart of the city, offering advocates for downtown interests a shot at something they've long sought: their own public school.

By a 5-to-2 vote, Seattle School Board members passed a resolution Wednesday night, authorizing the district's application to take over the 119,000-square foot building that, for decades, housed the Seattle branch office of the Federal Reserve Bank, located on Second Avenue between Spring and Madison streets.

Though the school would pay practically nothing for the deed to the building, district officials have estimated it could cost between $30 and $40 million to make a school out of the former bank, which comes complete with a two-story vault, brass teller windows and secure loading docks.

Some board members raised concerns that the project, rushed to their attention in hopes of meeting a tight deadline from the feds, could divert dollars away from alleviating pressing space issues in other buildings across the district.

"We cannot let this opportunity go by, even though we may end up looking at other solutions down the line," said board member Marty McLaren.

Federal law gives homeless advocacy groups first dibs on vacant buildings which federal agencies determine they can't use. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials turned down an application from a Seattle group hoping to turn the building into a service center for homeless services.

A representative of the Compass Housing Alliance says the group has not given up on its application, but Seattle Public Schools is next in line for the building. If both applications fall short, the building would go to an online public auction.

The Downtown Seattle Association says the number of young children downtown is growing, but the lack of a nearby school is a primary reason why families move to other neighborhoods as their kids grow older.

More than 600 students in grades K-8 live within a mile of the former Federal Reserve building, according to the district's figures, but many of those students live close to another already-open area elementary school, Gatzert. Roughly 160 students live within a half-mile radius of the bank site.

Board members Sue Peters and Betty Patu voted against sending the application, expressing concerns the project was rushed to the board's attention without going through committee in hopes of meeting the application deadline.

"I question whether the board is capable of exercising due diligence in this circumstance," Peters said.

If the U.S. Department of Education approves the district's application, the school could open as soon as September 2017.