Just a few months till Seattle Public Schools aims to have a final decision on the future of the Denny Middle School site, once the new Denny is built and occupied on the Chief Sealth campus nearby – and tonight was the first of three key meetings in the process that are all happening this week. The Westwood Neighborhood Council organized this one in hopes of clarifying community priorities for the Denny site, and the cozy group in attendance emerged with a list:
Susan McLain led the meeting in place of Westwood Neighborhood Council Steve Fischer, who was ailing. Most of the 10-plus people in attendance at Southwest Community Center have been involved in discussions before, and many of them, in fact, said they are either on the Design Team that is meeting Wednesday to further refine ideas for the Denny site, or on the Departure Advisory Committee that meets tomorrow to consider allowing code “departures” for two aspects of the Denny/Sealth project (height and lost parking).
Also on hand, West Seattle school-board rep Steve Sundquist, who along with his fellow board members will have the final say on the Denny site’s future. He had pointed out in previous Westwood discussions that the prevailing sentiment of the district is that part of the site may again be needed for a school someday; tonight, he refined that to note that the general consensus is, it might have to be an elementary school, if West Seattle’s population growth continues to bring families with children. Susan Harmon wondered aloud if that would make sense, given the proximity of Roxhill Elementary among others, but it seems to be the site’s size — 6 acres — that is its draw, more than its location.
Sundquist also noted that he’s perceived other priorities for the district regarding the Denny site are a softball field and tennis courts to replace the ones they’re losing because of the campus consolidation at Chief Sealth. Meeting participants agreed they would like to see official numbers on how well-used that field and those courts are; those who are on the Design Team agreed to bring it up at Wednesday’s meeting.
Among the priorities listed by those in attendance tonight, some highlights:
Area resident Mary Quackenbush said, “Protecting Longfellow Creek is important to me – we need to minimize impervious surfaces, since we are uphill (from the creek) … Street trees and street vegetation will be a benefit too; what’s on the streets is important.”
For Susan McLain, priorities would include informal playspace at the site, so she and her kids could walk there and do something simple, like “throw a Frisbee around.”
“It’s important to have pedestrian access,” said Sandra Melo – a longrunning sore spot in discussions of the neighboring Southwest Athletic Complex, which has gates and fences that often obstruct people from being able to walk from SW Thistle to Westwood Village. That was seconded by Monica Kenny, who longs for “the ability to walk from (Southwest) Community Center to Westwood Village, through the site,” which often presents something of an obstacle course.
“Originally the whole thing was supposed to have some community access,” recalled Harmon, also remembering a years-ago request for a ramp at one point on the site, so “moms with strollers” could use it, and others who could navigate stairs – which is what the school district eventually built.
“One of the benefits of living in this community is being able to walk to Westwood Village,” Quackenbush added, “and come home with your groceries … A significant amount of people are being diverted around this property; it’s just not fair.”
“I look at Hiawatha and I’m envious,” noted Kenny, wishing the SWAC/Community Center site had similar access. “It’s wide open, no fences, it’s on an arterial, lots of people are living there and they have many options” for getting around.
All agreed some part of the Denny site should be left unstructured, literally and figuratively. Noted Bruce Bentley, president of the Southwest Advisory Council, “A nice greenspace could be used for a few different things.”
A little public art too, Melo suggested, perhaps even a mural on the west side of the community center/pool complex. Quackenbush thought that would be something students and community members could get involved with.
Participants also knew what they did NOT want to see at the site: Pablo Lambinicio said emphatically, “I would not want to see a big cement structure o this piece of property.” For Harmon, “no chain-link fences.”
As a sort of side note, the discussion also tackled one of the issues that will be on the table for tomorrow night’s Departures Committee meeting – the reduction in parking spaces proposed as part of the Denny/Sealth consolidation. Kenny is on the committee, and explained the most recently discussied numbers: 175 total parking spaces proposed for the combined campus, 20-something fewer than the two currently have, but more than 100 below what code would require because of the scope of the project — since the schools’ potential capacity will increase; right now, the two together have about 1,500 students, but that could grow to 2,100 with the capacity created by Sealth renovations and the new Denny. As Kenny put it: “A very significant potential increase, involving more staff, and potentially more students driving (to Sealth) while more parents are driving kids to and from school at Denny.” One possible way to create more spaces might be angled parking on 27th, she said.
By meeting’s end, the priorities boiled down to:
-Protect Longfellow Creek
-Play space for neighborhood use
-Pedestrian access through the site
-Joint use with the Community Center
-Lights, but not on at night
-Design including greenspace (“We need some breathing space around this thing … that we can access right out of the community center,” Bentley said.)
And they’re not giving up hope of preserving some part of the site as parkland – maybe having the district hold it for later community purchase (after fundraising). Or, Bentley suggested, “Parks and the school district often exchange property – it happens all the time – I think that would be an asset to the community.”
The priorities will be brought into the official process, which as we mentioned, continues as the week goes on.
The public is welcome at both meetings the next two nights — the Departures Advisory Committee at Denny’s cafeteria at 7 pm Tuesday, the Design Team for the Denny site at Denny’s library, 7 pm Wednesday. One more reminder, this one for the end of the week – at 6:30 pm Friday in the West Seattle High School library, the district is taking public comments on what to include in a future levy request (here’s the flyer).