No environmental review for new Arbor Heights Elementary? Neighbors’ concerns aired at appeal hearing

May 9, 2014 at 9:00 am | In Arbor Heights, West Seattle news, West Seattle schools | 50 Comments

(Rendering of new Arbor Heights Elementary)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

They say they’re not trying to stop it from being built.

But neighbors and others concerned about the new, larger Arbor Heights Elementary School say something is missing from the plan: A full-scale environmental review.

So they appealed the ruling that the project doesn’t need that kind of review, and their appeal led to a hearing that lasted much of the day Thursday in a meeting room at Seattle Public Schools headquarters in SODO.

It brought some surprises – including last-minute district research exploring some of the points for which the challengers said an environmental review was needed before the new school is built on the site of the old one starting this summer.

Appeal hearings don’t result in instant decisions, so a written report will be forthcoming. But here’s how the hearing unfolded:

First, a bit about the process. The burden of proof is on the appellant to show why the ruling was so wrong or damaging that it must be overturned. They have to put a case together at their own expense; unlike a criminal court, they are not guaranteed legal representation. So Chris Jackins, a longtime district watchdog working with neighbors, presented an opening and closing statement himself, calling witnesses inbetween the two, while the district was represented by high-profile local land-use lawyer Rich Hill, whose witnesses included district employees and other experts working on/for the project.

The document at the heart of the appeal is this – the Determination of Non-Significance and SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) checklist, released by the district in March:

Presenting the appellants’ case first, Jackins contended that the the checklist included “errors and omissions” and that the project would result in a “school (that) is too large for the neighborhood, increasing up to 90% in size” (from 47,000 square feet currently to 90,000 square feet), with “probable significant environmental impacts” including, he outlined:

-Traffic and parking effects
-Since it’s at the far south edge of the district, it would draw from farther away to fill its potential 660-student capacity, increasing pressure to close nearby schools such as Roxhill (he brought up the AH/Roxhill merger that was briefly proposed and withdrawn a few years ago)
-Residential neighbors affected on all four sides:
-Drainage, pollution, street changes on SW 105th related to the school’s drop-off/pickup, plus speeding on residential streets,
-Zoning departure (exception) for electronic message board
-District to remove 50 trees but doesn’t say how many are significant, so “impacts have not been formally characterized”
-No formal archaelogical survey conducted, but Jackins suggested consultation with the Duwamish Tribe
-Concerns about whether building materials will be reused

Regarding traffic, a major concern for those in the area, he said, is the fact that Westside School (WSB sponsor) is moving to a former church a few blocks east on SW 104th (as reported here, construction has just begun), but, Jackins said, the Arbor Heights project’s traffic study didn’t factor this in, while the Westside study did (see it here). The 35th/104th intersection between the two schools would see a sizable increase in “traffic load.”

But the neighborhood-street traffic increase weighed even more heavily on the minds of neighbors such as the first witness, Carmen Ragghianti, who read a letter she had sent to the district. After more than 20 years in the neighborhood, she said, she’s happy to see a new school on the way, but the planned enrollment increase raised safety concerns, and she wondered if the district had gotten the full picture by studying traffic on only two days, one regular school day, and one day when students weren’t on campus because it was a professional-development day for teachers.

Another area resident, Robert Femiano, was called next. He described himself as a former Arbor Heights Elementary parent and teacher who had spent 14 of his 37 teaching years at AHES. The Arbor Heights area’s dearth of sidewalks raised a safety concern, he said: “Increasing traffic without the safety of sidewalks seems to me to be playing with fire.” The potential 660-student population also could lead to increased health problems, he said, noting that his wife works as a school nurse. And he wondered where the students would be coming from, if Roxhill is remaining open, while pointing out that the former EC Hughes Elementary will be available in a few years (once Westside School moves out) and that the former Denny International Middle School site still has a large empty space identified as a potential future elementary-school location. “As a longtime educator, I could not support the choice for a megaschool” if something smaller was an option.

Nearby longtime resident Rex Long was next to be called, listing parking and traffic as his concerns, saying the 35th/104th intersection had “a lot of action” including crashes over the years.

He was followed by a more recent arrival, Brian Pope. While stressing that he likes the idea of a new school, he said that since he and his wife both work from home, they “get to see things that most people do not see,” including that the current pickup/dropoff area is not used that way by many, who instead look around for a parking space and then walk their children over to school. (The current AHES campus has very few of its own spaces.)

Some walk their children across 35th, east to west, noted area resident Rosa Long, who was called next.

She was followed by an architect living in the neighborhood who also reiterated that she’s glad a new school is coming but surprised at its size. The current documentation “doesn’t give a full picture of the impact on the neighborhood,” she contended, including the impact during construction, with trucks hauling excavated material. “We don’t know how many trucks it’s going to be, but we know it’s going to be a lot.”

The illuminated signboard concerned her too; she suggested it would be better placed in the center of the property.

After two hours, it was time for Hill to start calling witnesses on the district’s behalf. The project’s lead architect, Ross Parker from Bassetti Architects, was first. To the point of 660 students making for a “megaschool,” he said the school’s enrollment has been larger in the past, and that the new building will have more square footage per student than the current one does. Outlining the new school’s pickup/dropoff/parking areas, he said it would have 55 parking spaces, which is 47 more than the current school has (yet fewer than the 71 city code would require, for which a “departure” was approved). Most of the dropoff was expected to be focused on the northeast corner off 104th, and there will be a holding area for up to 20 cars, with an exit to 105th. Buses will continue loading and unloading on the street, and a departure was approved for that too.

Drainage issues raised in the appeal, he suggested, would be addressed by features including the plan to pave a “ditch” along the property line, with a new curb, gutter, sidewalk, and street trees; the water in the ditch will go into a culvert with “the intention … that it will alleviate any stormwater problems.” Improvements, he said, are planned along both 104th and 105th. The new site will have half as much impervious surface as the current one, including a grass playfield replacing asphalt, he added, also mentioning that 83 trees are planned to replace the 50 slated for removal.

The committee that considered the proposed departures also required screening to make sure homes wouldn’t be affected, and, Parker said, it won’t face homes anyway.

The next witness was Tod McBryan from Heffron Transportation, which did the traffic study for the AHES project.

He acknowledged that traffic “will continue to be busy and somewhat congested … around the site” during morning and afternoon. But he said their study showed that the project would increase traffic by 172 trips in the morning, 128 in the afternoon, and generate “peak parking demand” for 92 vehicles during the day, 60 percent of which would be handled on site, with “the remaining (to) overflow to 104th and possibly 105th.”

He then revealed a supplemental study had been done to address the potential compounding of effects with Westside School coming in a few blocks away. Westside currently “staggers arrivals,” he noted, while Arbor Heights has all arrive and depart at the same time. Under current schedules, the two schools would have a 20-minute overlap, McBryan said, but they don’t believe it will worsen the level of service (usability) at the 35th/104th intersection. They will recommend, he said, that the district monitors the start times of both schools when Arbor Heights is about to open, and if there seems to be an overlap, AH might consider a change. Plus, he said, the School Board is considering opening elementaries earlier, so that might make the whole point moot.

As for one appeal witness’s mention of a collision problem at 35th/104th, McBryan said they reviewed four years of data and found no collisions reported at that intersection; the Westside study, he said, found the same thing, and went back all the way to 2008. (The witness who mentioned crashes had been asked if they were reported to police, and he had said yes.)

An arborist who got involved in the project “late in the game” was the next witness, saying two trees of note had been found – one a madrone, “considered exceptional at all sizes by the city of Seattle,” the other a birch. The SEPA checklist mentioned a plan to save and transplant nine trees, two of which were two-foot-trunked Douglas firs; transplanting those types of trees doesn’t work, said the arborist, but now the two are planned to be kept in their current spots anyway. The other seven were palm trees and the district might consider how to get them into the hands of someone who could transplant and save them.

Next witness addressed the archaeological points, saying almost all the dirt to be moved off the site was Pleistocene-era soil “which predates human occupation … we would not expect to find buried cultural resources at this location.” But, she added, there’s a document outlining what would be done “if something unexpected was found.”

The project manager from Heery International said the district does have a plan for reusing materials from demolition, at least 50 percent, and that it will be “tracked on a monthly basis.” And the final witness called by Hill was Lucy Morello (at right in photo above), who has been overseeing capital projects for the district. She added more information about the illuminated sign, saying its use would be restricted to 7 am-7 pm on days the school was in use, and that it wouldn’t be used in the summer, or on holidays or weekends.

In a brief closing statement, Jackins contended that “everything about this project seems to be rushed,” and he said that the supplemental studies presented by the district had not been done before the SEPA checklist was issued, so the information hadn’t been presented to the public, which should have had the chance to review it in the environmental process: “This is not the way to do an environmental review.”

For his closing statement, Hill said that doing “significant work” after an appeal was filed is not unusual, since “the respondent has the right to develop evidence,” and he said all that evidence “reinforced the (Determination of Non-Significance) decision” not to require a full environmental review. He added, “There really has been no successful effort on part of appellants to demonstrate any significant adverse impacts.”

The presiding hearing examiner, Margaret Klockars, said she expected to present Superintendent José Banda with her written decision within 10 days.

50 Comments

  1. “They say they’re not trying to stop it from being built.” Then what are “they” trying to accomplish? Drive the price up with delays? Keep kids in existing substandard schools longer? Force the District to operate smaller, less-efficient schools? I concede that the only information I have about this issue comes from this blog article, but I have a difficult time not seeing this as NIMBYism. Of course after the all the opposition to that puny electronic sign on Madison Middle School, nothing should surprise me.

    Comment by jwright — 9:16 am May 9, 2014 #

  2. Hmmm,

    “at 35th/104th” they “found no collisions reported at that intersection”
    – Really? I seem to remember that a teacher was hit in that intersection, but maybe that was in 2007, so I guess it doesn’t count….

    If the district would delay the rushed start of this project, then the school– er, the “program” could move to EC Hughes when Westside moves out next summer. Cheaper for transportation, easier for STEM, more time to make a good plan for the Ah site.
    Nah, it’s never happen: that plan just makes too much sense.

    Comment by ocean — 9:37 am May 9, 2014 #

  3. The traffic-study witness did acknowledge that perhaps the resident was referring to collisions in earlier years.

    Comment by WSB — 9:46 am May 9, 2014 #

  4. As a parent whose child would (if my math is correct) be in the inaugural class of the new AHES, it sounds like in total the reasons against don’t really outweigh the reasons in favor. It sucks perhaps, having a larger facility than today’s, but this is part of the price of living in a city, and especially if you live on or near major infrastructure: things change and grow. It’s an inevitability.
    .
    Were there not statistics published recently showing decade over decade growth of student populations? If not here, where? Build the bigger AHES and sooner or later as well we’ll need to additionally expand Roxhill Elementary or build a new Roxhill and shift those kids temporarily to Boren to do it.
    .
    Things are not meant to be static, for better or worse. It’s the cost of city life.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 9:51 am May 9, 2014 #

  5. Jwright, does your yard flood from lousy drainage? Are you going to have a three story building across from where you live? Would you want your kids walking on roads with no sidewalks?

    Comment by Dpilon — 9:53 am May 9, 2014 #

  6. they say they don’t want to stop the project..
    but.. they want to stop the project
    .
    whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing for both the school district and the neighborhood remains in question
    .
    ocean points out that there are alternatives
    .
    but.. and this is a big thing.. is the money available to implement the alternatives…
    .
    and would the alternatives be good long term solutions?
    .
    good questions that aren’t addressed when the first response is NIMBY

    Comment by JoB — 10:00 am May 9, 2014 #

  7. I agree with Joe. I cringe when I hear combining AH and Roxhill. Roxhill needs a new mega school too. They are talking about 120,000 new people by 2035 (and that’s a low estimate if California dries out). And we are one of the last few affordable places in Seattle to buy a house. Guess which neighborhood they will be coming to?

    Comment by AmandaKH — 10:08 am May 9, 2014 #

  8. Tracy: Once again great reporting: clear and concise. THANK YOU!

    Comment by Toni Reineke — 10:10 am May 9, 2014 #

  9. @Dpilon the sidewalks fight is something that http://www.wwrhah.org and our counterparts in North Seattle are working on. The sidewalks are slowly creeping further south on 35th now. By the time the new AHES is open, the entirety of 35th south to AHES and a block past it will be 100% sidewalked. Getting sidewalks onto the side roads is a much, much, much, much, much harder fight. The total cost to completely sidewalk all the missing parts of Seattle is over $1.5 billion dollars. That’s billion with a B.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 10:11 am May 9, 2014 #

  10. The traffic concerns are 100% valid when you consider that Westside is moving into a location that would be a few blocks away from this new school. If there is no review of the traffic impacts that these two schools will have on the area in tandem, there are going to be a lot of upset neighbors once they both come online to serve students.
    .
    You can’t just increase the street load 20-30x and expect a small neighborhood traffic system to hold up under the pressure. Granted, the increased load will only occur during morning and afternoon load/unload rushes, but it’s still going to cause massive headaches for the nearby residents.
    .
    The residents who are speaking up are not against the new school being built, they are simply against the manner in which it is being railroaded through the city’s planning and design process. The city wants to build a new school but doesn’t want to pay for everything that goes along with putting a 2x bigger development in place of the old one.
    .
    It’s very similar to how I feel about the microhousing being proposed near my house. I’m not against the idea of microhousing, but I’m against the fact that the city didn’t require an environmental review of the development which allows the developer to do whatever he/she wants regarding parking requirements which will ultimately negatively impact my neighborhood.

    Comment by Brian Connolly — 10:48 am May 9, 2014 #

  11. I can totally relate to the “railroaded” comment Brian. That’s how I feel about Westwood Village’s new Transit Hub. And we have fought back hard to have the City/County listen to us. Where is SDOT in these conversations? Isn’t that who really needs to be at the table here?

    Comment by AmandaKH — 10:58 am May 9, 2014 #

  12. I wish I had time to fully research this right now but – perhaps SDOT would be required to weigh in if a full environmental review is conducted?

    Comment by WSB — 11:02 am May 9, 2014 #

  13. Traffic congestion and residential speeding related to AH is already a problem. It can’t just be doubled or tripled without a plan as to how that traffic will be handled. I live on a nearby corner where much of the traffic is bottlenecked. There are often 12-15 or more vehicles lined up to turn onto 35th, spewing carbon monoxide into small homes and completely blocking access to others. The sidewalk continuance on 35th really won’t do much to help students; there are very few kids who walk to school, and fewer who use that route. It is completely unsafe to walk in the neighborhood during times when parents are tearing down the streets in SUV’s to pick up or drop off kids. This really needs some serious thought and planning, not just “it’s the big city – get over it”.

    Comment by anonyme — 11:16 am May 9, 2014 #

  14. Being an AH resident and former AHES parent, we have been dreaming of a new school for the dilapidated current one.

    However, the prospect of a 600-student plus building on this lot is just obscene — it’s like one of those mega mansions squeezed onto a small lot. How do you folks who say this is a NIMBY thing feel about the mega mansions taking over lots that once had proportional homes on them? What was your stance on the developer who took over a WS corner lot and is attempting to put three homes on it? It is akin with that along with associated increased traffic issues.

    I can attest to the traffic being a problem years ago with a little over 300 kids. The people who live on 105th barely have any street width as it is with two-way traffic virtually impossible. Knowing several people living nearby working at home, the noise will be interesting. We live a few blocks away and love hearing (yes, we can hear the school) the kids play, the bells ring… but 600 kids?

    What are they going to do with the old Denny building? That’s a more appropriate lot and set-backs for a megaschool.

    It’s like when SPS closed Genesse Hill and said it could not be rebuilt, but what are they doing now? Rebuilding it. SPS is not known for thinking things through at the outset.

    It’s not a NIMBY thing – we want the new building and a larger one is good for the neighborhood (and property values). But a mega one that is out of scale with the lot and the neighborhood is not.

    Comment by timbuktu — 11:58 am May 9, 2014 #

  15. @ anonyme I’m pretty sure there are plans for expanded speeding cameras in the AHES vicinity.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 12:05 pm May 9, 2014 #

  16. The only ones officially on the proverbial drawing board are the two to be added on Roxbury – near Roxhill and Holy Family. I asked Brian Dougherty after his Southwest District Council appearance the other night; he said they’re scheduled for installation in September. But certainly the city has said it wants more, and that the proceeds will go toward more school-zone safety improvements …

    Comment by WSB — 12:11 pm May 9, 2014 #

  17. I’m glad to hear there will be more cameras, but they will undoubtedly be on 35th. That will do nothing to prevent the problem of vehicles racing down the side streets of AH to and from the school, menacing pedestrians, and congesting these narrow little streets with the traffic from hundreds of extra vehicles – including giant school buses.

    Timbuktu, thanks for your insightful input. It seems like any call for thoughtful planning and moderation is seen as obstruction and Nimbyism. In fact, neighbors and citizens all over West Seattle are fed up with having their concerns bulldozed over (literally) by developers and bureaucrats who could care less about our neighborhoods.

    Comment by anonyme — 12:46 pm May 9, 2014 #

  18. Thank you West Seattle Blog for covering this hearing. I agree with the railroad comments. 105th is only 30 feet wide, half the width of most neighborhood streets. I was surprised they are planning an exit/entrance to the parking lot, as well as drop off/pick up for special education and kindergarten busses on narrow 105th If an environmental impact analysis had been done, would it have it shown this street is too narrow for the amount and type of traffic proposed? I am not sure of the answer, but I do know that to give the Seattle School District the authority to decide on its own whether an environmental impact analysis is even needed doesn’t make any sense. I don’t trust they have thoroughly or thoughtfully accounted for what the impacts will be to an area with so such little infrastructure. Arbor Heights School has needed to be upgraded for a very long time. But it seems as if the School District is trying to impose whatever they want, without any thought for what the impacts will be for the Arbor Heights community for the next many decades.

    Comment by Diane — 12:46 pm May 9, 2014 #

  19. Our home is on 105th. That street isn’t wide enough for the amount of traffic that will be on it

    Comment by Concerned — 12:54 pm May 9, 2014 #

  20. I agree with others “railroad” comments. 105th is only 30 feet wide, half the width of most neighborhood streets. In light of this, I was surprised to learn the school district has placed an entrance/exit to the parking lot, as well as drop off/pick up for special education and kindergarten busses. Would an environmental impact analysis show 105th is too narrow to handle the proposed type and increase in traffic? I don’t know the answer to this. However, to give the Seattle School District the authority to decide on their own whether or not an environmental review is needed makes no sense. Arbor Heights Elementary has badly needed to be replaced for a very long time. But it seems as if the School District is trying to impose whatever they want without consideration for the potential impacts for an area with very little infrastructure. This school can be great, and can be a boon for the Arbor Heights community for many years to come. But only if it is done right and with forethought and consideration for the neighborhood it’s impacting.

    Comment by Diane — 1:06 pm May 9, 2014 #

  21. One more piece of information that AH residents may not be aware of is that there are three major construction projects that will be running simultaneously beginning…now. AH Elementary demo and construction over the next 2 yrs.; street micro-resurfacing, now through this summer; sidewalk installation on west side of 35th south to 106th, beginning summer 2015. None of the workers or reps I’ve spoken with had any knowledge of the other projects. The construction and traffic noise, as well as numerous obstructions due to conflicting operations, could potentially be horrendous. There are several residential projects going on as well, including the re-build of the house that burned down on 41st a few years ago.

    Comment by anonyme — 1:15 pm May 9, 2014 #

  22. Diane, Concerned, many of these decisions are made by bureaucrats who have never even seen the physical location. I know this for a fact, having recently met with a rep from a certain City Dept. re: a street project. He hadn’t even seen the design proposed by his own dept. and posted on their website. At best, they reference Google Earth or something similar.

    SW 105th is so narrow that it probably should be one-way, and also has a steep slope on one side. The idea that it should be used for pick-up and drop-off, as well as for overflow parking, is ludicrous.

    Comment by anonyme — 1:24 pm May 9, 2014 #

  23. The existing school has a capacity of about 500 students. It once had 900 students. The new school is being designed to hold 490 or 660 (the district will decide which size to build at the start of construction or later).

    The larger gym and lunch room and the playfield are also to be available for community use.

    The traffic at 35th and 104th appears to be a major concern. A 4-way stop has been discussed. SDOT should be brought into this conversation – they have control over the streets, not the two schools.

    Comment by WS Skookum — 1:25 pm May 9, 2014 #

  24. Sounds to me like we should be calling a joint meeting between SDOT and SPS on all of these things anonyme. Was this the first meeting for the new AHES? Forgive me if it’s not, and I’ve missed a bunch of them. But it sounds like there are some very legitimate concerns here that need to be addressed.

    Comment by AmandaKH — 2:23 pm May 9, 2014 #

  25. All concerns listed are valid and need not be swept under the carpet.
    Especially concerns regarding traffic as most of the increased attendance will be driven/bussed in. The impact of Westside school will be significant. We have to assume most Westside traffic will head towards 35th Ave since you practically need a 4×4 vehicle to travel down the hill (East)on 104th due to the road that has needed repair for 15 years.

    The city and residents of Arbor Heights can do a lot to help pedestrian issues. It is not lack of sidewalks that causes the kids to walk in the road. Pedestrians walk in the road because the area where they should be walking is blocked by illegally parked cars, fences, garden boxes, and overgrown vegetation among other things. Cement should not need to be laid for people to have a path to walk.
    Cars are not to be parked perpendicular to the road. Fences should not have been built over their property lines. The city is required to clear vegetation beside and above sidewalks. Why can’t we clear the pedestrian zone now in preparation for future sidewalks? Time for us AH residents to put forth the effort to make some positive changes. Let the city tow cars and buzz vegetation where people refuse adhere to city code.

    Comment by j — 2:35 pm May 9, 2014 #

  26. Anonyme: that’s interesting you said that because I spoke to someone from the City last week as well. He advised me of the improvements scheduled for AH roads but was also unaware of the construction at Arbor Heights. He even said its possible they won’t do anything to 104th and 105th because of the school construction, saying each entity could try and put it on the other to make improvements to the roads.

    Comment by Diane — 2:52 pm May 9, 2014 #

  27. Wow. Thanks, WSB for the great coverage. I’ve been reading through the comments so far, and I find many of my concerns brought up.

    First off, I have to say Arbor Heights needs a new school, and has, desperately, for going on 25 years now. It is a dump. For a while, there were serious health concerns – remember the mold days in 2005-06? http://arborheightsair.blogspot.com/ Remember the threat of closure so another school could have the building in 2008-09? SPS has ignored and neglected the students and families at Arbor Heights for a long, long time. They are overdue for a break.

    Second, and this touches on traffic issues (very real) and crowding concerns expressed by neighbors – why in the world would you build a megaschool at the extreme end of a very looong city? With less bus service, coming soon (no route 21). One road in, one road out – you are just asking for trouble. That teacher injured in a car accident at 35th and 104th was beloved music teacher Barb Bailey, btw…

    Third, I hope this beautiful new school will not be filled to capacity, or could even at this date have an adjusted smaller footprint. That would help. Some talk about there being much higher enrollment many years ago. That is true, but that was also in the day when kids walked, or even rode their bikes, to school. Parents these days are terrified to let their kids walk even a few blocks. Cars, cars, cars…

    Finally, neither here nor there… some of the trees that are going to be removed were planted by classrooms. In particular, all the trees on 104th, west of the palm trees (that are apparently going to be saved), were planted by kids in the fall of 1991. I know, because it was my first year teaching there – my class planted a Chinese Elm, which I believe is still there. I wonder if it would be possible to save those trees? Because our roots matter.

    And this is not to the point of the post but I just have to say it. It breaks my heart to see the wonderful students of Arbor Heights shipped off to portables at Boren – for 2 years – so the new school can be built. Talk about getting slapped on the behind by the screen door as you leave. Those kids deserve a lot better.

    Comment by Mark Ahlness — 3:56 pm May 9, 2014 #

  28. Diane, it sounds like the most expensive game of Not-it! If only there was some kind of leadership that could get them to work with each other…

    Comment by Civik — 3:59 pm May 9, 2014 #

  29. Mark Ahlness – very eloquently said by a teacher. I also welcome a new school, and one is sorely needed. But I totally agree it should conform to the neighborhood.

    Comment by Diane — 5:46 pm May 9, 2014 #

  30. I don’t know how they can afford to to build anything. They still owe 50 million on the new office building they built several years ago.

    Comment by rob — 7:36 pm May 9, 2014 #

  31. I am all for an improved school. I’m a trainer by profession – I totally support education. I went to the meeting at the school where they presented the plans and was impressed by how thoughtful they were about the safety of the children – once they are in the school. The classes are sectioned off by a security corridor, etc. BUT. . . what about the safety of the children walking to school??? I live near the school on 37th and see kids running in the street – people walkign everywhere. What a danger this is now with no sidewalks. . . and is is going to be much more when we have double the number of cars zooming around – with no sidewalks!!! What are you thinking – if you are thinking – of the safety in the streets around the school. An independent environmental review certainly needed! You care so much about the safety of children that are INSIDE your building that you made a state-of-the-art building with security measures – but is it intended to be a free-for-all once they step outside?! I support education and progress – but not blindly. Do the environmental analysis – and do it independently – and correctly! We live here!

    Comment by Tim Eannarino — 7:58 pm May 9, 2014 #

  32. Diane says, “But it seems as if the School District is trying to impose whatever they want without consideration for the potential impacts”. Yes, and recent experience shows they can get away with it. Remember how the Madison MS neighbors polite and thoughtful concerns about the electronic signboard were brushed aside? We all want a great education for all Seattle students. Arbor Heights deserves a beautiful and functional building. The neighborhood, which has supported the school through thick and thin, deserves consideration–which they are unlikely to get without a much greater show of force.

    Comment by Julie — 8:26 pm May 9, 2014 #

  33. Accidents at the intersection of 35th Ave SW and SW 104th St are still accidents whether or not the Police are called. I have seen the Police present at some of these collisions and sometimes the people involved elect to settle it between themselves. Thank you for your time and consideration concerning this matter.

    Comment by DDDD — 8:51 pm May 9, 2014 #

  34. I live in Arbor Heights just 2 blocks away from the school. I am very happy that the school is getting built, but on the topic of safety, no one has mentioned the fact that most of the streets in this neighborhood have uncontrolled intersections. It’s amazing how many times I see people blindly rushing thru these intersections without looking for traffic coming the other way. Close calls happen often. Add to that the lack of sidewalks and school traffic and it gets really ugly. I won’t even drive near 102nd and 37th in the morning. Too dangerous. The city could do a lot for this project if they improved traffic and pedestrian flow for blocks around the school. 104th/35th and 105th are not the only areas impacted.

    Comment by Lynne — 8:16 am May 10, 2014 #

  35. This opposition really frustrates me. The amount of time, effort, consideration, and discussion on this project is not “rushed”. This has been worked on for over a year, planned, replanned, and hashed out by a number of gracious volunteers and school/district staff. Whatever rush there may be perceived is not surprising given the fact that the current building is deplorable and a safety/health hazard.
    . I’ve lived in AH for 5 years, have had kids at both AHES and the cooperative preschool at the new WestSide location and have NEVER seen or heard of an accident or incident involving traffic at the 35th/104th intersection.
    . Folks concerned about increase in traffic need to keep in mind that due to the poor condition of the current building, many AH residents have been leaving AH to drive their kids to other schools in WS. The fact that AH residents will feel better sending their kids to the new AHES, will actually reduce traffic and more kids will be walking or biking to school. Next year at Boren, the two schools combining 300+ students each will already have more students than the new AH building will open with! Staggering start times will aid in the congestion. It’s a simple adjustment and one that can be made if folks have a collaborative, positive approach.
    . Folks concerned about the size of the building, need to remember there is a capacity issue in WS. The build will not result in a 660 seat school initially. It will be closer to 500 with the option to build on later if needed. The current landscape and property is being completely changed, putting in features to aid in drainage, add to scientific and environmental studies, and provide our kids with GRASS!!!! The size of the building itself will not be that much bigger in regard to what percentage of the ground it covers. It’s just that it will be 2 stories taller. I hate the term mega-school. I grew up in a Portland suburb and my graduating class (one grade) was over 300 students. My prediction for the seat size of the new building…… merging AH and STEM for a eSTEM K-8. Not so mega then, eh?
    . I wish people would stop beating the dead EC Hughes horse. That building is not vacant and could not house the AH population size anyway!
    . to anonyme and any other residents who CHOSE to purchase a home or live near a school, DUH! of course there’s going to be a line up of cars. It’s a school. And, A LOT of kids walk to AH. I am at the building every day as a parent and staff member, and I can debunk you comment about a line up on 35th. The drop off entrance comes east on 104th from 39th. Parents cannot drop off heading west on 104th.
    ……
    I really fail to see how all the complaining is productive. Yes, there are realities that are not ideal, but this is the real world. We have a serious need for a new building, a supportive and collaborative staff and mostly-supportive neighborhood community. Sometimes you have to accept what is the best POSSIBLE approach. We do not have time and money to keep the bickering and nit-picking.
    As a parent and staff member of AH, I plead with those who feel passionately to get involved, contribute to a solution instead of just complaining about the problems (i.e. things that are not perfect!). Acceptance is a beautiful thing.

    Comment by AH parent — 8:38 am May 10, 2014 #

  36. AH parent, it is truly unfortunate that you choose to characterize neighborhood input and involvement in the planning process as “bickering and nit-picking”. “Supportive” need not = ignorant and silent. A collaborative effort between all entities involved will mean the best possible result. Recognition and definition of the potential problems IS a contribution; if you have a solution, aside from telling everyone else to just shut up, you are welcome to propose one.

    BTW, NO ONE said that there was a line of cars on 35th – so there’s nothing to “debunk”. The lines of cars I see are on 36th, 37th, and 102nd. AHE is several blocks from where I live, so I did not “choose” to live near a school. While you are correct that a certain amount of disruption is to be expected in the area, many of us are realizing, realistically, that poor planning could easily turn minor disruptions into major problems for our neighborhood. Accept that not everyone agrees with you.

    Comment by anonyme — 10:23 am May 10, 2014 #

  37. Watch and see I bet the plan for traffic will be to add more traffic cameras. The long term plan is always revenue generation, not safety. Mark my words once this is built AH will be getting speed traps installed. I would be OK with it if the revenue from the tickets went to the schools in these zones instead of the police.

    Comment by WsEd — 2:05 pm May 10, 2014 #

  38. Excuse me Ocean, but the District is not rushing into a rebuild of AH. In fact it is LONG OVERDUE. I was a parent at AH when Ms. Bailey was in a car collision at 35th and 104th. That was one collision and there have been many all over West Seattle on 35th. AH now has a crossing guard and lot of police presence for several years following that accident and it is a much safer corner. I live a few blocks from that corner and walk my children to school on a regular basis and never have had any issues.

    What I hope Ocean is that you are not someone who is posting the comment, because you don’t want AH at Boren.

    Comment by AHMom2 — 6:49 pm May 10, 2014 #

  39. AHE has at one time had close to or over 500 students. Currently, with 350 it feels cramped. I work in one the portable classrooms which house all of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classes. The rooms are cramped. I am tripping over chairs and desks on a daily basis. The calling the new school mega is ridiculous. At the most it will hold 600, but projection is about 500. Who knows how long it will take to fill up. Pathfinder is about 500 right? Fairmont will be about 500, Gatewood was close to 500 last year. STEM will be about 500 and Roxhill is over 400 and busting at the seams, Schmitz Park is over 500 and is projected at 600, Lafayette (if I have read the info. correctly) is the most overcrowded school in WS and one of the most in the district. Roxhill and Lafayette need new facilities. Folks, get used the big schools, because our Superindent does not believe in small neighborhood schools. In fact, Seattle is one of the few metro. cities that has smaller neighborhood schools. Most have schools that house between 800 and 1,000. Private is a good option if you don’t like the numbers. One of the positives of a big school is more resources. One more thing, the only schools that I have been to WS that I have seen adequate parking are Pathfinder and WSE. I have been to Schmitz and parking is a mess, as is Roxhill and I cannot even fathom how bad the parking is going to be at FP with an entrance on a crowded dead end street and a small roadway between condos and the school running west. Most will probably be parking on Fauntleroy and that is a very busy street with many speeding drivers in the AM.

    Comment by AHMom2 — 6:59 pm May 10, 2014 #

  40. The “polite and thoughtful concerns” about the electronic signboard at Madison deserved to be brushed aside. They were alarmist hyperbole at its most ridiculous.

    I’ll entertain gripes from people who have lived in the neighborhood since before Arbor Heights Elementary was originally built. Everyone else? Not so much.

    Comment by jwright — 7:59 pm May 10, 2014 #

  41. There will be sidewalks on both sides of 104th.

    Comment by AHMom2 — 8:27 pm May 10, 2014 #

  42. AH Parent, there will be no merging of AH and STEM. There are great plans in place for Boren K-8 STEM that will result in 450 elementary and 300-400 middle school seats. Boren will be completely and wonderfully used while continuing to address K-5 capacity issues and future MS capacity issues. AH will offer other wonderful opportunities to folks in the AH zone and beyond. Two schools, two amazing opportunities that are unique to West Seattle. Here’s to a bright future!

    Comment by StringCheese — 11:32 am May 11, 2014 #

  43. STEM will create more capacity problems in WS. When the inevitable high school capacity crisis hits, we will need Boren to house Denny. Then STEM will be merged with AH (although i don’t see why they would welcome it, given the treatment they’ve received of late. Portables, indeed.

    Comment by Doh! — 7:57 am May 12, 2014 #

  44. Doh, it appears that you haven’t received all of the facts. Yes, some of AH’s classrooms will be in portables. The rest will be in the north wing of the school. With every possible classroom space being used, the existing portables (used by every school that has used Boren for the past twenty years) are being utilized. STEM is merely maintaining their current classrooms. The two communities are will be sharing a library, lunchroom, and playground. How else was this supposed to work? Better yet, how, exactly, is this STEM’s fault? From your tone, I am guessing you are simply angered by STEM’s actual existence. For that, I will not apologize.

    Comment by StringCheese — 8:46 am May 12, 2014 #

  45. I’m not opposed to a new school and, when we moved here 10 years ago, we fully expected to have some future impact from the growing school. I do question some of the decisions that have been made around traffic and safety. If the school has to leave orange traffic cones strewn all over the streets around 104th and 37th, clearly they themselves see this as a traffic and safety issue. When I have to complain about these cones being left there 24/7, or complain about the school official who insisted on screaming at the kids through her megaphone twice a day, or leave notes on parents’ cars for blocking my driveway, yeah – I’m going to have concerns. We have just as much right to question any departures to code as the school district has a right to request them – particularly when the negative impacts can be mitigated and avoided.

    Comment by RickMo — 9:00 am May 12, 2014 #

  46. Wow, I am really confused about the AH/STEM merger?? I think that at one time there was a consideration to do that, since AH numbers have been low and STEM needed a building, but I don’t think that is the case now.

    It is not going to be any easy two years at Boren. STEM will not be able to grow and AH will be cramped in portables and also limited for growth. On the flip side it could also be an awesome collaboration of curriculum and the two communities. I hope that everybody goes in with the best intentions for our kids and seeing the “glass half full.”

    Comment by AHMom2 — 6:52 pm May 12, 2014 #

  47. Anonyme, the WS comments section is not where neighborhood input is being collected. Please contact the school, district or attend a planning meeting to have your concerns evaluated. If you haven’t noticed, there is no, nor has there been, off street parking for AHES. Just where do you expect people to park? There are several side streets that safely and properly provide parking. As previously mentioned, this is not an alarming problem. It’s easy to point fingers and cry poor planning. Have you been a part of such a large scale planning project? I don’t think anyone is saying ‘shut up’, it’s just insulting that so many people come to the blog to complain about imperfections when their energy could so better serve by getting involved.

    Comment by Again — 7:02 am May 13, 2014 #

  48. The new school design includes 55 on-site parking stalls, 48 more than at present.
    The new school may not have any more students than are currently enrolled or it may have nearly double; to characterize this as a 20-30x” increase is not accurate.
    The big change to traffic in the neighborhood is not coming from AHES but from the Westside School moving into the church on 104th east of 35th.
    Was there a cry for an environmental review of that project? Perhaps there should have been. There have been public notices, community input, and public presentations and hearings on AHES for a year now.

    Comment by WS Skookum — 8:31 am May 14, 2014 #

  49. The appellant to the SEPA hearing (Chris Jackins) has a decades long history of challenging possibly every single Seattle Public Schools projects. Does he ever challenge anything that doesn’t involve Seattle Public Schools? Mr Jackins attended one of the Arbor Heights Elementary community presentations but did not ask any questions or make any comments. He waited until the last day of the SEPA public comment period to file for an extension, then waited until the last day of the extended period to file an appeal. Is this due public process or merely obstructionism? What has been the cost to taxpayers to accommodate his mission?

    Comment by WS Skookum — 8:49 am May 14, 2014 #

  50. Again – as a matter of fact, I HAVE been involved with providing input outside of the comments section, so perhaps you shouldn’t pre-judge what others should, shouldn’t, have, or have not done without having any information on which to base your accusation of wasted energy or lack of involvement. Even if that were not the case, everyone is allowed an opinion, even when it doesn’t fit into your narrow view of allowed formats. The WSB happens to be a highly respected and valuable forum for such discussions. In fact, most of us would have no idea what was going on with either AHE or any other neighborhood project if not for the WSB.

    The problem has been that SPS has not been welcoming of public involvement, and opportunities for input have been few, far between, and orchestrated to have as little impact as possible. The “rush” that others have mentioned has to do with this lack of transparency.

    It’s also painfully apparent that you do not live in the vicinity of the school, based on your comment that “There are several side streets that safely and properly provide parking.” Uh, really? My main concern remains with the extra traffic (300 ADDITIONAL trips per day, estimated) in an area that does not have the infrastructure to handle this amount of traffic. These small side streets are already treacherous due to school traffic, and an increase of this magnitude would make life in the vicinity of the school both miserable and dangerous.

    Comment by anonyme — 3:48 pm May 15, 2014 #

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