Op-Ed - Alki Elementary School needs work but the SPS plan is deeply flawed
By Don Brubeck
Alki School needs work.
The students and teachers at Alki Elementary need a school that keeps them comfortable, ready to learn, engaged, and safe from earthquake, fire, flood, intruders, and traffic. They deserve spaces for learning and play that are well lit, have good acoustics for listening and speaking, are made from healthy materials, and are connected for 21st century learning technology. We all need public schools to be sustainable, durable, energy-efficient, and easy to maintain. Schools are centers of our communities. Schools should be good stewards of the land they occupy. Schools should respect their neighbors needs and values. We agree that Alki School needs improvement in all of these areas.
What the 309 students and the neighbors and District taxpayers do not need is a school that is rebuilt for an imaginary 540 students.
We need a neighborhood school that is sized right, to fit our neighborhood. That is why 17 Alki School Neighbors submitted comments as a group on District requests for land use code exemptions, and why several groups and individual neighbors appealed the District’s SEPA decision that the project would have no significant environmental impacts.
The school District decided some years ago that there should only two sizes of elementary schools, allowing only two cookie cutter program designs. This may seem orderly and efficient, but It ignores the wide variety of existing site sizes and program sizes throughout the city. The District is not acquiring new property sized for its program choices. The policy boxes the design teams into poor choices. At 1.4 acres, Alki has the smallest site of all Seattle elementary schools. Alki’s school population is toward the low end. Its student count has been gradually trending down for years and is going down most in the youngest grades. The Seattle Times recently reported that the District’s demographic projections for growth of school-age children have proven to be incorrect. Citywide, the population of adults has grown by about half in ten years while the number of children is declining, especially in neighborhoods like Alki where small multi-family apartments and condos are replacing single-family homes. Many parents are opting out of the public schools. The District has no plans to change the attendance area for Alki, Lafayette, or Genessee schools, and neither Lafayette nor Genessee’s population would fit into the planned rebuild of Alki. Genessee was recently rebuilt. Lafayette is slated for future renovation, as is the closed Schmitz Park Elementary. The District has not studied the option to use the 7.5 acre Schmitz Park site for the Alki Program after the Schmitz Park site is no longer needed for temporary space while West Seattle Elementary and Lafayette are renovated. All these factors make rebuilding for a 77 percent increase in capacity at Alki School an unwise decision. It is not too late for the School Board to change course.
We do not need the District to build and pay to operate a building that is more than a third empty.
Grossly oversized facilities are inefficient and wasteful to operate.
We do not need a building that is as tall as a five-story apartment building.
It will loom over neighboring houses and apartments, block our light and views, and shade the playground. Neighbors will be facing three stories of classrooms with 9-foot-high windows, lit in hours of darkness, reflecting sun in daytime, and intruding with views from the school to our residences. The 57-foot height is far more than the land use code’s normal maximum of 35 feet for schools in residential zones. It is more than double the existing building height along 59th Avenue SW.
We do not need the added traffic and parking on the streets.
You may have noticed that we have a parking problem in Alki near the beach whenever the sun is out. The District is asking for code exemptions to eliminate all on-site car parking, to have no ADA parking or drop-off/pick-up zone, to keep the bus load zone the same, and to have substantially less than code minimum for bike parking.
We do not need the added environmental impacts.
The District is trying to fit 10 gallons of water into a 5-gallon hat.
Instead of remediating past damage and neglect of the site, The District is planning to pave and build over more of it. The soil, with a high probability of archeological importance, and steep slope at the southeast will be greatly disturbed by construction. The oversized building requires more construction noise, dust, and air pollution over a longer period. Permanent impacts for noise, light, glare, traffic safety, parking, tree canopy and environmentally critical areas will be greater than necessary.
The message we neighbors of Alki School would like the School Board to hear:
- Don’t just ask for input. Respond with respect, flexibility, and common sense.
- Use our taxes wisely.
- Become good stewards of the land and water we entrust to you.
- We vote.
- Right-size Alki School.
Don Brubeck is a retired architect who has worked on private schools and public school projects in 16 school districts in Washington and Oregon, including West Seattle’s Madison MS, Denny MS, Chief Sealth HS, West Seattle HS, Arbor Heights ES and Holy Rosary School.
This Op-Ed was written to represent the collective views of many neighbors in the Alki neighborhood. It is meant to amplify those voices and prompt greater transparency, communication and flexibility from Seattle Public Schools. The district was given an oppotunity to comment on this prior to publication but they declined.
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