(UPDATED 9:32 PM with comment from preschool spokesperson)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Long before the Seattle School Board almost ordered them out of the public-school building they leased and fixed up just two years ago, Westside School (WSB sponsor) had been seeking a permanent site. Now, it appears Westside has found one.
School leadership has sent a letter to Westside families saying they are in the process of purchasing Hillcrest Presbyterian Church at 34th and 104th in Arbor Heights. The city Department of Planning Development website notes the early stages of a plan to renovate the main church building as part of Westside School’s campus.
We just spoke with Westside’s first-year head of school Kate Mulligan to get some answers to questions that are already ricocheting around the community along with copies of the letter.
We haven’t spoken yet with Hillcrest church leadership – but we know from research on unrelated stories that the property has been on the market for a while.
We also know that Westside’s long-range plan for at least a decade has been to find its own site, even before it moved from its previous site – a closed Highline Public Schools property just south of Arbor Heights.
Mulligan stresses that the purchase is not final and will not be until and unless they get their land-use permit from the city – that’s a contingency of the deal for the site, which is 72,000 feet, roughly an acre and a half, and if the permit process works out, the deal could close next June.
She stresses that many details are yet to be worked out. But she does know that they intend to work with the existing building – this is intended to be a renovation, NOT a teardown. No architectural plans yet – it’s barely into the “conceptual phase.”
Several of the people who e-mailed us wondered about the fate of Arbor Heights Co-Op Preschool, which is currently housed at Hillcrest Presbyterian Church.
Mulligan said she had spoken today with Judy Hall from the preschool program (who we also will be contacting for comment [evening update – see end of story]). “If the permitting process is successful and we become owners in June, we would like to continue our relationship with Arbor Heights preschool for as long as it is advantageous for them and possible for us — at least through the following school year and possibly longer.”
Since the plan is in its early stages, Westside does not expect to be leaving its current space at the former EC Hughes Elementary any time soon, either. “I anticipate the 2013 2014 school year will be one of planning — planning our financing, fundraising, architectural plans, engaging our community,” Mulligan said.
For those who are not familiar with details of Westside School – it is an independent, secular school, run as a nonprofit. Mulligan answers to its board of directors. Two years ago, Westside started adding middle-school grades, one at a time; this year, it runs through 7th grade, and next year it will add 8th grade. Right now, 312 students are enrolled; next year, adding 8th grade, she expects they will be around 350, and by the time they move to a new campus – assuming the Arbor Heights move goes through – they would top off at about 400, two sections per grade.
Mulligan expects to talk soon with their current landlord, Seattle Public Schools. She also is planning a meeting with the current school community – no date set – and has opened an e-mail account for questions about the plan (scroll down to the end of this story).
“We’re very excited about this opportunity,” Mulligan says. She also points out that the potential new site for Westside School is just a few blocks from its old site, which is home to Explorer West Middle School (WSB sponsor).
It also is about three blocks east of Arbor Heights Elementary School, at 37th and 104th.
Here’s the Westside letter sent to school families provided by school leadership:
A long-term strategic goal of Westside’s Board of Trustees has been to secure, via purchase or long-term lease, a facility to accommodate the school’s program. Over the last decade, the Board strategically pursued facility options with this in mind, including the move to the EC Hughes building in the summer of 2010. As of (Wednesday), we are thrilled to announce that Westside is one step closer to securing a permanent home.
Westside School’s Board of Trustees has approved the purchase of the property and buildings of the current Hillcrest Church, located at 10404 34th Ave SW. This purchase is contingent upon a six-month permitting process, called a Master Use Permit, or MUP, in which the school is now engaged. We will know the results of this process by June of 2013. If, through this process, we determine that the property is a viable site for Westside, we will finalize the purchase.
This purchase represents nearly a decade of strategic facilities planning by our Board to secure a permanent home for Westside. The Hillcrest property presents the most exciting solution for the future of our school. It is conveniently located in West Seattle, a short distance away from our current location. The site allows us to create an innovative space to house our thriving learning community and provides flexibility to enhance our Early, Lower and Middle School programs as they evolve. This site will give our children and teachers – and future generations of Westside students – the space they deserve.
The decision to pursue the purchase of the Hillcrest property was reached after careful due diligence and thoughtful consideration of every alternative site available, including staying at our present site or returning to our former site. Taking into account both the cost of the property and the preliminary estimates for site and building improvements, Hillcrest is a cost-effective solution to solve our facility needs. We have a preliminary plan in place to finance the purchase of the existing land and buildings and expect to use a combination of financing and fundraising to pay for the needed improvements.
This is a very exciting time for Westside School! Our program has flourished over the past 31 years because of our dedicated school community. The Board is committed to keeping you informed as we progress through the MUP process and make plans for our permanent Westside home. There will be several opportunities for the school community to ask questions and provide feedback throughout the process.
Should you have any questions or comments, please let us know by using the following dedicated email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We plan to assimilate your questions and address others at a Community Meeting in the near future.
Mulligan clarified in our conversation this afternoon that the meeting mentioned in the letter will be a school-community meeting, but she also expects to involve the wider community in the process as it unfolds, and says that anyone is welcome to send a question to the e-mail address mentioned in the letter. For now, though, it’s too early for them to have any additional details on anything from the timetable to how the school will look – though she says they expect the remodel to open up the building for “lots of light and space.”
ADDED 9:32 PM: We have heard back from Judy Hall regarding the co-op preschool now housed at Hillcrest. Here’s the update she sent to the families of current preschool students today:
I spoke to Kate Mulligan, the Head of Westside School, today.
Westside School is buying Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, where we currently reside.
Master use permit process should be complete by June 2013
Arbor Heights Cooperative Preschool has been assured that they can continue to rent the facility from Westside through June 2014
Since there are rumors already floating out in the community, many of which are inaccurate, I wanted to send this information to our families right away. The Arbor Heights Cooperative Preschool board, Children’s Teachers, and SSCC Parent Instructors are pleased to have concrete information on the status of their facility. Now they can move forward to make plans for a continued search for a new location for their co-op.
Arbor Heights Co-op Board is scheduled to meet on Nov. 28, 2012, to discuss possibilities for a new home for their 90 some families. The Arbor Heights staff is enthusiastic about supporting the board through this process.
We are still waiting to hear from the church regarding its future, an unanswered question in all this. If we get that comment tomorrow, it’ll likely be in a separate followup.