Denny-Sealth shared campus: NOT a done deal after all?

So suggested Sealth teacher Delfino Munoz toward the end of tonight’s Westwood Neighborhood Council meeting to update the project status; he was followed by West Seattle’s new school-board rep Steve Sundquist saying the board’s trying to get a legal opinion on whether they do indeed have the power to cancel the plan – if they wanted to. Bottom line, now more than ever is your time to speak out, if you have a strong opinion on the proposal either way; WNC president Steve Fischer provided lots of resources tonight on how to do that. Here’s our detailed report (updated 11:59 pm):

First, some background: The school district is planning to combine the Denny Middle School and Chief Sealth High School campuses, currently about two blocks apart, while rebuilding Denny on the CSHS site and renovating Sealth; this is a nine-digit-price-tag project funded by a levy voters approved earlier this year.

The levy wording, however, did not clearly state that it would result in the middle and high schools sharing a campus, something that no other middle and high schools do anywhere else in the city. And the plan took shape with little if any neighborhood notification, finally culminating in the Westwood Neighborhood Council calling a meeting for late June (our detailed report here), at which details emerged, emotions ran high, and the “it’s a done deal, you’re going to have to live with it” contention from school authorities pervaded all.

A few other meetings ensued over subsequent months (including this one we covered in October). The district promised a comprehensive project website at; it’s not there, and as WNC president Fischer pointed out tonight, there’s just a skeleton page for the project on this Seattle Public Schools website.

So neighbors are still not thrilled with the amount of information they’re getting, or not getting. But information is how tonight’s meeting began; Robert Evans, Denny/Sealth project manager, showed a PowerPoint presentation about where the combined-campus plan stands now. Here are some bullet points (some of it hasn’t changed since previous presentations):

-Denny students will be in their own three-story building (6th grade first floor, 7th grade second, 8th on third), and there will be a play area on the north side

-The kitchen, commons, and health center will serve both schools; in addition, there will be “pathways” for 7th and 8th graders to go into the Sealth building for programs such as music and Career Technical Education

-Denny’s entrance will be off Kenyon

-Sealth’s entrances will get more “curb appeal”

-The portables on the west side of Sealth will be removed for a “cleaner look” and better “pedestrian pathway”

-The Denny seventh-graders’ level of the school will connect to the shared “galleria”

A few other details weren’t discussed until audience questions were taken; there was extra attention to the matter of parking, which had come up at previous meetings — since the new Denny will take up some of Sealth’s current parking area, neighbors are worried about where those cars are going to go.

Before circling back around to the matter of what happens next and can the project be stopped if there is significant community opposition and the school board sees reason to cancel it, attendees talked about what they might like to see done with the Denny site, if indeed the school is torn down and moved. Fischer talked about the grant the council had tried to get for a “holistic” look at how people use the Sealth/Southwest Community Center/Denny area (rejected by the city after the school district pulled its support because, Fischer says, it wouldn’t be in complete control of the process and outcome).

Turning the site into parkland drew the most support; one man in the audience talked about how West Seattle needs a state-of-the-art playground — right now, if he wants the chance for his young child to play on that kind of equipment, he has to drive to Capitol Hill.

After ideas were collected, discussion turned back to Denny-Sealth. Several attendees voiced lingering concerns about a school housing 11-year-olds with 18-year-olds. Sealth teacher Munoz said his colleagues are strongly opposed to the project; someone asked him what about Denny employees, and he said they were under the impression it was a “done deal,” a mistaken impression, in his view, because he believes the school board does have the power to re-evaluate the decision. He asked school district rep Evans how long it would take for the district to assemble other possible options; “till March” was the answer.

Shortly after that, Sundquist jumped in. He is one of four new members on the 7-member school board — that means a majority of those comprising the board now, were not on it when the Denny-Sealth project was approved. He first urged everyone with concerns to attend school board meetings (here’s their calendar) and sign up to speak out. He then noted that the board needs to consult with legal counsel to determine if they really do potentially have the ability to change the course of this project, while also pointing out — as has been said many times before — that time is of the proverbial essence, as construction costs continue to rise. “We’re going to hustle through this process as quickly as we can,” he promised.

Council president Fischer wrapped up the meeting by saying that if a group of people wants to organize a challenge to fight the project, help is vital – the council can’t go it alone. He suggested help will be needed with everything from graphics to traffic-engineering expertise, potentially for testimony at meetings.

And more meetings are ahead for this project, in the meantime; the Westwood Neighborhood Council has committed to a January 14th meeting at Southwest Community Center; district rep Evans said the Chief Sealth PTSA is organizing a January event that will have more of a focus on potential issues and concerns for, and questions from, parents of current and future Sealth/Denny students.

But, it was noted yet again in closing, no meeting is needed for personal action, exactly the kind of action group leaders urged, regardless of where someone stands on the Denny/Sealth project. Here’s our replication of the “action list” handed out at the meeting — with contact info for decisionmakers, and more:

Seattle School Board members’ names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers:
all listed on this page

City of Seattle project #, for tracking permits etc: 3008096 (project page is linked here)

(the list points out that) … the School District will be asking the City for two code departures. These requests are for 1) Building height and 2) Parking.

Write to:
City of Seattle
Department of Planning and Development
700 5th Avenue, Suite 2000
Post Office Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019

Environmental Review:
Under state law, the School District is allowed to conduct its own Environmental Review (SEPA). This has not been completed, has yet to be submitted to the city, and is appealable.

Westwood Neighborhood Council
Sealth/Denny project on Seattle Public Schools site

11 Replies to "Denny-Sealth shared campus: NOT a done deal after all?"

  • chas redmond December 13, 2007 (1:52 am)

    When I voted for this levy I was very much under the impression that Sealth would be rebuilt and enhanced like WS High. This resulting proposal seems like a very much watered-down fixit-upper, almost a door-prize version. I have commented on this to the School Board previously. Now that there appears to be a chance to stop and think through this again, I would hope the Board examines its legal options and halts something which seems to be getting negatives from everyone who would be affected.

    By the way, a state-of-the-art park for kids would be very nice and much used at the Denny location. It would also provide a nice respite from the industrial-feeling outsides of the community center. Why aren’t they more inviting in appearance?

  • GenHillOne December 13, 2007 (6:03 am)

    Oh man, I hope some decisions can be made quickly. With this hanging out there now for Sealth, and no apparent plan yet for WSH’s conversion to a 6-period schedule next year, it sure is fun to think we need to pick a school by the end of February…

  • Marlene Allbright December 13, 2007 (7:49 am)

    What hasn’t been said here is that this project is all about saving money. It has nothing to do with academic achievement or “pathways to success” as was ballyhooed in the early stages. When Sealth returns to their school, it will be chopped up, there will be fewer special education classrooms because the district wants less teachers. With one kitchen, they will lay off kitchen workers and custodians. This means the district won’t have to pay salaries and benefits to these people. The students will be forced to move out of their school for two years, and come back to a school that looks virtually the same, while their younger counterparts will be right next to them in a state-of-the-art facility. The Sealth community was sold a bill of goods, or as one staff member put it, a used car that turned out to be a lemon.

  • LK December 13, 2007 (1:28 pm)

    I’m interested in the groundswell of concern surrounding this project. It seems like there are three main lines of concern here: 1) students in grades 6-12 on the same campus, 2) Denny getting a new school while Sealth gets a modest remodel, 3) neighborhood concerns about property use and access.

    RE: #1–Doesn’t Seattle public schools have a successful K-12 program at Summit? Don’t hear any dire reports coming out of there. I’m not so much concerned about students mingling (I attended middle/high school on a campus similar to the Denny/Sealth make-up and came away unscathed). Aren’t Denny and Sealth students already riding the same busses and hanging out (unsupervised) at Westwood together? Seems if there were concerns about poor influences/choices, those venues would be of greater concern.

    RE: #2 This argument seems to have more merit and traction. West Seattle High got a beautiful school, Denny is slated for a completely new facility, and Sealth gets a remodel of much more modest proportions. I’ve never been through the builiding–does Sealth need and deserve a much more extensive remodel? Is it at all possible they can get the $$ for that? Former school board rep Irene Stewart reportedly was quite proud she was able to get what she did in light of the recent building projects in our district. Is combining the schools a cost-saving plan being sold as an academic advantage, or are the academic advantages being bolstered by the $$ argument? How do Sealth teachers feel–seems like opinions may be divided between the two schools (Denny more pro, Sealth less so)?

    Finally, RE: #3–is the neighborhood council concerned about the merger or the land use issues? It sounds like the community around there would like parking and traffic concerns addressed, greater access to the playfields, etc? Seems like a good gesture and would garner community good will and future support to make sure that the surrounding community can access such resources, as well.

    For those of you who have attended these meetings, which one of these issues has the most voices behind it?

    (And just curious–what “state of the art park” on Capitol Hill is drawing parents from W. Seattle? Having lived there with a small child, W. Seattle seems chock-a-block with parks by comparison.)

  • WSB December 13, 2007 (1:32 pm)

    This is the park – Powell Barnett. Maybe Capitol Hill’s not the right description of the area, looking at the page, but that’s what the park user called it last night. As parents of a child who was playground age not that long ago, we would attest to the fact that there’s no really spiffy play area in WS that we know of. Lots of parks, yes, but the play areas are all fairly basic (if there’s a hidden gem we missed, someone please pipe up!). Several years back, we used to go to Green Lake on occasion to take advantage of the fancy play structure at that playground.

  • westello December 13, 2007 (4:32 pm)

    I am an education activist in our district and I had mounted a campaign against the bond measure in January. (FYI, we voted for a bond this time for the capital campaign, not a levy; the district wanted the money upfront and with a bond you get it that way.)

    I wish more people had listened to me. I put out a full report on why many of the projects listed were not the most necessary (mostly on safety grounds but there were many factors).

    Denny/Sealth was put forth by the district as a needed two-fer project to save money. (Curiously, the district didn’t feel this need to save money with the New School building housed in the South Shore building which co-houses, straight down a corridor, with the Rainier Beach Community Center. The district could have waited for the City to rebuild both entities together and save money and have it look more esthetically pleasing. But somehow redoing Denny and Sealth together was a good idea. Hmmm.)

    I never found, in any of my research on the BEX III list, that Denny and Sealth were going to be co-joined. You would be right if you suspected they either withheld the information or decided that AFTER they got the money.

    Also, many people said to me that I was hurting kids to not back this bond measure and that, according to Danny Westneat of the Times, “We don’t care how they spend the money, we just want the money.” Interestingly, it seems like people in West Seattle DO care how the money is spent. Many people told me we should just get the money and then ask the Board for changes. Well, now the Board is saying they may not have the legal right to do so. I find that hard to believe given they vote on the budget and the superintendent.

    Sealth was on BEX II and got a $3.8M update that was completed in September 2004.

    Actually, the Summit K-12 program is only marginally successful. I don’t think it’s because of the range of kids but because the district put the only K-12 school in the district in the north end. There are many schools in the country that are 6-12; the district should have been able to give reasons to parents why it can work and is a good idea.

    The Facilities Department in SPS runs on its own track. The people there are fairly territorial and will tell you one thing one day and one thing the next. Take careful notes at any meetings you attend and note who says what. They are hardworking people but they have their own agenda and listening to the public is not one of them. (They have tried to shake off unhappy people living in Wallingford over the Hamilton project and stated that they don’t really want to reach consensus but they will listen.)

    Good Luck.

  • Charlie Mas December 13, 2007 (6:19 pm)

    Of course the District can change the projects on the bond levy. On both BEX I and BEX II they changed projects, they removed projects, they made all kinds of changes. I find it very odd that the Board needs to seek a legal opinion on this or that the legal opinion would take more than ten seconds to get.

    One of the new Board members, Peter Maier, was a leader in the bond campaign and one of the people who told folks that they should vote in favor of the bond issue even if the project list isn’t the best. He told them that the project list could be changed after the bond issue was passed. Now it is time for him to make those words true.

    The District has done little or no community engagement on this construction project. The District has done little or no community engagement on the design – who told them that the people wanted Denny and Sealth to be linked this way? Who was advocating for that and how were they so successful? Were people led to believe that Sealth would be completely renovated? When and by whom? Does Sealth need to be completely renovated?

    Sealth got a Educational Adequacy Score of 2.2 and a Condition score of 3.3 in the Meng survey (Adequacy and condition are scored on a scale of 1 – 5, with lowest scores representing best condition). Other high schools got these scores:

    Rainier Beach 3.1 3.1
    Cleveland – –
    Franklin 1.4 2.5
    Garfield – –
    Roosevelt – –
    Hale 3.3 3.2
    Ballard – –
    Ingraham 3.1 3.1
    West Seattle – –

    The schools with no scores have recently (or currently) been renovated. Hale is slated for a total renovation in BEX III. Rainier Beach and Ingraham (which is getting a little work in BEX III) appear much more in need of work than Sealth.

    Does Denny need to be renovated? It appears so. Denny is in worse condition than every other comprehensive middle school except one.

    Denny got a Educational Adequacy Score of 3.1 and a Condition score of 3.2 in the Meng survey. Other middle schools got these scores:

    Aki Kurose 2.6 3.2
    Mercer 2.9 3.1
    Washington 2.9 2.9
    Meany 2.4 3.5
    Hamilton 3.9 3.1
    Eckstein 1.8 2.9
    McClure 2.6 2.9
    Whitman 2.6 3.0
    Madison – –

    Madison was not scored because it was recently rebuilt. Hamilton, with the worst scores, is also on the BEX III project list for a total rebuild. Denny is second. Meany and Mercer are not far behind.

    These were not, however, the buildings with the greatest need for work. For example, Van Asselt had scores of 3.3 and 3.4, Lowell was 3.3 and 3.4, Genessee Hill (Pathfinder) was 4.3 and 3.4, Laurelhurst was 3.5 and 3.2, Olympic Hills was 3.4 and 3.3, and Wedgewood was 3.2 and 3.3. But how would it look if the bond levy had projects for Lowell, Laurelhurst, McGilvra (4.2 and 2.7), Montlake (4.2 and 2.7), and Wedgewood on it?

  • chas redmond December 13, 2007 (11:51 pm)

    From these numbers it looks like both Sealth and Denny need to be rebuilt. I’m beginning to feel that I’ve been either lied to or cheated on this bond as an investor. I think the new School Board should take a long, hard look at this.

  • Indaknow December 14, 2007 (1:08 pm)

    Why don’t they build a new Denny on the old EC Hughes campus. Then it wouldn’t take away from Sealth and the whole grade 6-12 controversy will be eliminated. Fix the boiler/electrical systems over the summer and let the Sealth students stay on campus. Build the new Denny while they stay at the old site and then move them in. My kids go to Sealth and Madison and have spend time at the temporary Boren site over the years and while I consider it an inconvenience it is shocking to me how many families will pull their students OUT of the school for the duration of the remodel. With Sealth gaining ground with their awesome principal, enthusiastic staff and new IB program, I would hate to see new families turn their back on the school. Unfortunately I think that will happen if Sealth is moved–especially without an extensive remodel.

  • Marlene Allbright December 14, 2007 (6:50 pm)

    What a great idea! I hadn’t even thought about the EC Hughes site. That’s perfect. There should be no environmental impact problems there, and Denny would still get a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility.

    Now that I think about it, I remember West Seattle High School decreased their enrollment while they were at Boren. Sealth can ill afford that. They are now just starting their IB program, and improving their reputation. Now is not the time to lose students.

    Denny deserves to have a brand new school. We at Sealth can wait until the funding is there for a brand new school.

  • GenHillOne December 14, 2007 (7:43 pm)

    Indaknow – you’re right, the Boren site is a real turn-off to many. I wondered why they couldn’t do the system updates to Sealth during the summer myself.

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