By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Eight days after discovering West Seattle’s first charter school is planned for the north edge of Arbor Heights, we’ve found out much more about the plan.
When we first reported on it January 4th, we knew only that Washington Charter School Development, an arm of Los Angeles-based Pacific Charter School Development, was proposing to remodel and add on to the Freedom Church/Jesus Center property at 9601 35th SW (SW corner of 35th/Roxbury) for an unspecified charter school. Our state’s voters authorized creation of charters two years ago; 10 are approved so far, but only one is open.
We’ve been working for the past week-plus to find out more about the West Seattle plan and have finally connected with WCSD to get answers to some of the many questions raised by the early information we found in city planning files:
First: WCSD is under contract to buy the entire 2 1/3-acre Freedom Church site (price not yet disclosed – the county values the land alone at $3.2 million), with the sale expected to close within three months, according to Patrick Ontiveros, general counsel and Washington state project director for PCSD, which he describes as “a non-profit developer, with a mission to provide long-term affordable facilities solutions to increase the availability of high quality charter schools,” adding that his company “is working with the Gates Foundation to open charter schools in Washington State.”
That organization is providing money, but the school’s operator will be Redwood City-headquartered Summit Public Schools, according to Ontiveros, who says it’s working with his company “to purchase and remodel the site for a high school. In addition to West Seattle, Summit Public Schools plans to open charter schools in Seattle’s International District and Tacoma.”
The latter two, both announced as high schools, are the only schools for which Summit has authorization from the state Charter School Commission, so it will have to apply for permission to open a third school. The next application period opens in February. The ID and Tacoma schools are scheduled to open next fall; for Summit’s ID campus, to be called Summit Sierra, WSCD just bought the former Asian Resource Center for $4 million, according to our partners at The Seattle Times.
Summit’s roots go back to the turn of the millennium in Silicon Valley, according to its website, which shows that it operates seven schools in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
With the charter school intended to use the entire Freedom Church site (previously a Safeway store), Ontiveros adds, “The plan is that the existing building will be redeveloped in addition to new construction to accommodate future expansion. There is a provision where the church can lease back the building until construction is ready to begin, if they desire.” (Here’s the early-stage “site plan” that’s been in the city’s online files since New Year’s Eve and led to our first report, showing a 2-story addition along the Roxbury side of the site.)
The development company is “still wading through all the permitting issues,” he said in response to our question about what kind of reviews they expect to go through. They hope to “have the first phase of renovations completed in time for Summit to open in 2016.”
He added: “We want your readers to know that we are open to meeting with neighbors, community stakeholders and other interested parties. Although we are simply the non-profit developer, we realize that charter schools are new for Seattle. Based on the early interest, we are working with Summit Public Schools to schedule a community meeting.” No date yet, but they promise to give plenty of advance notice.
Four current/future campuses are within a mile of this site – Roxhill Elementary at 30th/Roxbury, the Arbor Heights Elementary rebuild on 104th west of 35th (opening fall 2016), the starting-this-fall campus of Westside School (WSB sponsor) at 37th/104th, and Explorer West Middle School (WSB sponsor) on 28th south of Roxbury.
Meantime, we’re still seeking answers to questions – including, is there a conflict with a medical-marijuana enterprise, Northwest Patient Resource Center, kitty-corner from the prospective charter-school campus? – so you can expect more followups to come.