That’s what the current state of things boils down to, regarding the school district’s plan to build a new Denny Middle School on the Chief Sealth High School campus, with some shared facilities — or so it sounded when district reps made their case during a semi-contentious community meeting tonight (called by the Westwood Neighborhood Council). Click for more:
The main bone of contention for neighbors: Very little public input solicited before this declaration that the shared-campus project is moving forward and the community just has to deal with it. Tonight, Sealth principal John Boyd and Denny principal Jeff Clark both faced the crowd and apologized for that — with Sealth’s principal even admitting that prior solicitation of public comment amounted to little more than students running around with flyers.
Much has been made (including this Slog post filed tonight before the meeting) about the concerns of this combined campus leading to much mingling of kids ranging in age from 11 to 19. But that’s not all the Westwood neighbors say they’re worried about.
First, some backstory on this: The $125 million estimated cost was approved by voters in last February’s Seattle Public Schools levy. The ballot language didn’t clearly say, or really even hint at, “new combined campus for both schools” (though advance newspaper coverage talked about it, and we did too). The project is moving quickly, supposedly because of concern over rapidly rising construction costs, and the district says it hopes to start construction right after next school year; some of the recently hired architects were on hand at tonight’s meeting, along with the aforementioned principals and even the late-arriving but spirited outgoing West Seattle school board member Irene Stewart.
As the plan stands now, Sealth students would be moved to temporary digs at Boren as of fall 2008, so major renovations can begin on their school, simultaneous with construction of the new Denny campus on the north side of the Sealth property. Denny students apparently will stay in the old school till the new one’s built; it will face Kenyon Street, according to the district’s preliminary plan, while Sealth will continue to face Thistle.
What happens to the current Denny site after the new one opens is the main portion of the project that, according to district reps, is still up for significant public input. One meeting attendee asked if there was a chance the district would simply sell the land; the district reps said that wouldn’t make sense (without absolutely declaring “no way in hell”). They expect to turn it into more athletic fields, including some for community use; that too is a point of concern for neighbors, who say the current SW Athletic Complex across from Sealth isn’t supposed to be fenced off the way it is now, so they’re leery of district declarations that new facilities on the Denny site would be open.
Also a sore spot: With the new Denny campus taking over space now used for parking at Sealth, will buses and cars spill over into the neighborhoods? The principal pointed out that high-school students soon will be riding Metro buses instead of old-fashioned school buses, so that at least would cut down on the bus traffic. But otherwise, there were vague mentions that a parking/traffic plan would have to be developed, with city help.
Tonight’s meeting included pitches from both principals, who painted flowery pictures of how shared facilities would mean better education for students at both schools, especially in the music programs, which are already cooperating to some degree. Later came the thorny questions from some attendees, including one community activist who said he’d heard a majority of staff members at both schools were opposed to the project (Denny’s principal denied that, Sealth’s principal didn’t), and a Sealth employee who declared that both schools have “discipline problems” now and wondered how in the world they would handle the increased discipline necessary when all sorts of rules kicked in on a shared campus about “this area’s for middle schoolers only/this area’s for high schoolers only.” (When asked how some of those areas would be marked off, one district rep gamely mentioned some “landscaping features.”)
After that same person’s passionate declaration that what’s really needed is an all-new Sealth campus AND an all-new Denny campus, School Board member Stewart unapologetically defended the project as it stands, saying she and her colleagues felt there was no way they could get $200 million past voters for a project of that magnitude; the $125 million for new Denny/renovated Sealth was “pushing it” as it is. It was clear that Stewart is proud of procuring that money for the two secondary schools in south WS, after the secondaries in north WS (Madison MS and West Seattle HS) both underwent major remodels in recent years.
What’s next? The Westwood Neighborhood Council promises to keep close watch and organize more meetings; the school district invited community members to join in the design process. If nothing changes, construction would commence in about a year, and last for about two years.