By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Four and a half years ago, in the Roxhill Elementary School cafeteria, we covered a meeting called to talk about a proposal to merge Roxhill into Arbor Heights Elementary, after AH’s rebuild. The plan was soon scrapped, and AH is sole occupant of the new school that replaced the crumbling original one.
Roxhill, however, is still in its deteriorating building. Seattle Public Schools has another plan for moving the program, and this one has traveled far down the path to reality without formal community conversations.
Last night in the cafeteria, the “reborn” Roxhill PTSA took steps toward making sure there’s some conversation before the fall 2018 move to a renovated and reopened EC Hughes Elementary, 1.2 miles north, simply happens.
While it hasn’t been finalized by the School Board, assistant superintendent Flip Herndon told last night’s PTSA meeting that it is indeed virtually a done deal. We first reported on the possible move one year ago, but details at the time were few.
PTSA president Amanda Kay Helmick, leading the meeting with vice president Al Fisher, had announced the School Board rep for West Seattle and South Park, Leslie Harris, as the main guest. Harris, however, was at a School Board committee meeting and arrived just after the PTSA meeting ended. Attendees heard instead from Herndon and from senior project manager Mike Skutack, with whom we had toured Hughes for a story we published Sunday about the renovation plans.
Herndon began with a small recap of what led to the rebuilds of just-opened Arbor Heights and Genesee Hill Elementary Schools, and the BEX IV levy money that played into those.
The district also gets some state money, and that’s part of what’s funding the EC Hughes renovations, said Herndon. “There’s a lot of schools we’re trying to get to” for renovations and rebuilds, he explained. “We have a lot of buildings that are really dated and need to be addressed,” which they’re trying to balance with population growth. If they were to fix everything all at once, it would take up to $3 billion. But they don’t have enough places to put students in the meantime.
So he eventually arrived at Hughes/Roxhill. “We knew the Roxhill area wasn’t growing as fast as everywhere else .. but all our schools eventually need” reworking. The site isn’t very big – the park next door is city-owned. EC Hughes became available (while Herndon said it had been leased by independent Westside School [WSB sponsor] “for at least a couple decades,” it was actually just five years).
The district’s Capacity Task Force has been meeting and will be deciding what to do with “buildings that aren’t being used as schools,” including Schmitz Park Elementary, whose program moved to the newly built Genesee Hill, and what will be done with Roxhill, once empty. Roxhill’s building “doesn’t work well as an interim school” when space is being sought – other schools have too many students.
Skutack said that EC Hughes and Roxhill “scored” as being in similar condition, but the former was a better candidate for renovation/upgrade investment now and potential expansion later. He recapped that a school design advisory team met multiple times earlier this year to talk about the space, with construction starting April/May of next year, and Hughes opening in the fall of 2018. The design advisory team has two sets of minutes linked from this district page; the participants listed on the minutes were primarily from the district and the architecture firm. Then-principal Sahnica Washington participated; she left after last school year, and new principal Tarra Patrick now leads Roxhill.
Skutack acknowledged the lack of outreach so far: “I’ve become aware that maybe we need to circle back with the community, maybe the PTSA, and show the design … there’s been limited community engagement” because the work is primarily being done inside the building, not outside.
The work isn’t contingent on another levy, Skutack explained in response to a question, because most of it is from February’s BTA Building Excellence levy. Herndon added what we had been told recently, that there might be a Phase 2.
What’s in the project? asked an attendee. (That was the bulk of what was in our Sunday report.) Skutack referred to it as a “substantial renovation,” including technology, upgraded interior systems, space for a health clinic. Some walls are coming down.
So where IS EC Hughes? another attendee asked. “A mile north.”
So the Roxhill-to-Hughes move IS a done deal? someone else asked. “Every indication is, that’s what’s planned,” replied Herndon. He mentioned the portables that are on the Hughes site (sold to the district by Westside School as they weren’t needed at its new Arbor Heights campus), saying they’re much nicer than the typical portable.
Another question: What kind of energy efficiency? Solar panels? Not likely, said Skutack, because of the building’s status as a city landmark. “If you’re going to (seismically) rework the building, you should be able to put up solar panels,” the attendee countered. Skutack reiterated that he didn’t think that was possible, but other upgrades will up the efficiency level.
Another question: “I’m kind of wondering about the grounds, kind of looks like a prison, with all the (pavement) …” Yes, there is a nicer play area on site, she was assured.
What about the name? the district officials were asked.
Herndon: “You could either rename the building and call it Roxhill, or Roxhill at EC Hughes, or EC Hughes. There’s a whole naming process …” He said the second one was more likely.
Other points of clarification: Roxhill would not be sharing the Hughes campus with anyone else; it’s vacant now.
The district officials also suggested that they might sent a project manager to the school to present the designs and listen to ideas that could be incorporated.
Principal Patrick said, “I think the questions that are going to come are going to be more specific – what is the design like, what can we have some input in, what will it look like for my kid to go to (Hughes), and what does it mean for our attendance area … We’re experiencing some busing challenges this year,” so what would it mean to move?
Herndon says the boundaries will be “exactly the same.” (There were some changes about a year ago, with a community meeting added at the last minute.) Transportation, that might have some changes, he acknowledged.
The principal expressed some enthusiasm for an FAQ and other information that could be linked.
One attendee wondered about the overarching rationale for the move. Herndon reiterated that a lot of code upgrades needed to be done. Safety-wise, nothing major he said – some had worried about the water, and that’s tested every year; an earthquake retrofit was done here “within the past 8 to 10 years,” Skutack said, and the fire alarm system was upgraded.
Helmick then asked, “What will happen with this building?” from the prism of not only a parent but also a leader of the local community council (Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights CC). And, she said, regarding capacity – Hughes would start with one similar to what Roxhill has now – “this is the next neighborhood that’s going to be developed. … You’re changing our community, basically.”
Herndon: “Here’s what I do know – we have programs that continue to grow that we constantly have to find space for – I don’t envision the building being totally vacant – we are continuously hearing from community members and the city about space for pre-K, child-care programs,” and he brought up Schmitz Park’s current use for the latter. “If it was up to me, I would never sell any land that we have … you’d never get it back.”
Some here hadn’t even laid eyes on EC Hughes, it was clear. Skutack suggested maybe the PTSA could meet there next time, and that idea was welcomed.
Other toplines from the PTSA meeting
HELP FOR ROXHILL: Parent Kate has launched a GoFundMe drive for donations to help “our little school.” A teacher announced their hopes of raising money so students can go to the Islandwood camp – they have 40 5th graders and it would cost $140 for each. They’re going in November and hoping the PTSA can raise money for this year, with the 5th graders paying it forward by raising money for next year.
HELPING OTHERS: Vice president Fisher said they’ll be collecting donations for Operation Nightwatch including tarps, blankets, backpacks, clothes for kids as well as adults (the kid items go to the Mary’s Place family shelter) starting immediately. He also acknowledged the presence of homeless people in nearby Roxhill Park and on the playfield and said his agency will try to get them into downtown shelters.
OCTOBER 19TH SHOW OF SUPPORT: On October 19th, some staffers will wear Black Lives Matter T-shirts around the entire district “to inspire dialogue around discrimination and racism,” according to an announcement from organizers that was read. “We hope October 19th is a starting point” for change, and for conversation. It’s framed as teaching kindness, respect, and compassion, NOT as a protest. Principal Patrick spoke up and acknowledged that she has an unusual position as an African American principal, and she wants to be clear that no one’s attitude or philosophy will be judged whether they are wearing a BLM shirt or not. That happens to be Picture Day at Roxhill, and students will be welcome to wear shirts, or not wear shirts. She said people’s everyday actions and behavior will be the true measure.
As we finished writing this story today, we received a district news release that points out this happens during a week in which SPS hopes to spark conversation about closing opportunity/achievement gaps:
During our #CloseTheGaps kick-off week, Seattle Education Association is promoting October 19 as a day of solidarity to bring focus to racial equity and affirming the lives of our students – specifically our students of color. In support of this focus, members are choosing to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, stickers or other symbols of their commitment to students in a coordinated effort. SEA is leading this effort and working to promote transformational conversations with staff, families and students on this issue.
The district has a new website section about closing the gaps.