They’re not ready to ask for your money yet – but they’re asking for ideas, and optimism. Board members of the Fauntleroy Community Services Agency convened a community meeting last night to lay out where things stand with Seattle Public Schools‘ decision to sell Fauntleroy Schoolhouse (one of five former schools now declared “surplus”) and FCSA’s hope of buying it — and it’s going to be a challenge, to say the least:
According to last night’s briefing, before an audience of more than 40 people, the district thinks the schoolhouse and its five-acre site in the heart of Fauntleroy (built in 1916; here’s some of its history) are worth up to $10 million. FCSA has hired its own appraiser and expects the “final sale price to be substantially lower.”
The cost of buying the building and its land are only part of the eventual price tag, however. FCSA and the tenants now in the building — including Fauntleroy Children’s Center, Tuxedos and Tennis Shoes Catering, Seattle Civic Dance Theater — say it’s going to need millions of dollars in work just to keep it from falling apart; they say the school district has put almost nothing into maintenance over the years.
Building rents average $5/square foot, but one tenant said at the meeting, “It’s not a fantastic deal,” given the condition the space is in; “those may not be market-rate rents but it’s not a market-rate building.”
Provided they buy the building, FCSA says, they will need to spend $2 million immediately on “urgent renovations” described as “installation of sprinkler systems, lead-paint removal, upgrades to meet current seismic codes” among other things. Then, another $2 million-plus in “immediate” renovations would be necessary within the following two years, with needs such as “adding insulation under the roof, replacing/upgrading steam-heating controls, installing all-new lighting to meet current energy code.”
Then, three to six years after that, according to last night’s briefing, yet another round of renovations described as “intermediate” could cost $4 million — replacing the plumbing, installing double-glazed windows, fixing and partially replacing the roof (which one tenant says is leaking now, requiring a bucket brigade to keep things habitable).
These are “initial estimates,” says FCSA, outlined by consultants they’ve hired to evaluate the building as the purchase process accelerates. And another type of potential renovation is being discussed — reconfiguring the interior space so that more of the building could be used as leasable space; right now — since “after all, it was built as a school, with plenty of corridors” — only 66% of the building space is leasable.
So why not just knock the whole thing down, if it’s in such lousy shape? If FCSA’s purchase campaign fails, that’s apparently a very real possibility — the district’s appraisal of the site’s worth, it was noted last night, is based on what all five acres could go for as property on which to build single-family houses.
However, “maintaining and renovating the school building” is at the top of the list for FCSA’s priorities in this process, based on previous community input, including an open house last April. (Not to mention the fact that “along with Fauntleroy Church, this is the heart of the community,” pointed out one participant last night.) Next on the list, “continuing to use the school building as the home for the Fauntleroy Children’s Center.” They hope other current tenants can stay — and that others will join (even now, it was disclosed last night, there are at least four open classrooms, 800 square feet each, that could currently be leased out) — but they also say rents will almost certainly have to go up.
This doesn’t rule out development. As a handout distributed last night put it, “We are open to new development on the back lot, but any new development scenario must generate sufficient revenues to help acquire and renovate the school building.” And even more vital is the next line: “New development on the site needs the support of the community.”
This was emphasized, and re-emphasized, at last night’s meeting; board members say, “We are not interested in fighting with the community.” It would be a matter of selling the land to raise some of the millions needed for acquisition and renovations, not for anybody to profit.
What kind of development, you may be wondering? Four possible scenarios were listed last night: “Single-family development — subdivision of the back lot (or) creation of cluster housing where single-family homes would be grouped on the property” (one attendee suggested perhaps a cohousing “village” would make sense); “Multi-family development — senior rental housing (or) workforce housing for those being priced out of housing rental market (or) market-rate rental housing”; “Additional option for development of school building — redevelop second floor of school for use as housing”; and “alternative if school property is not acquired for community uses — if school is demolished, underlying zoning would allow entire lot to be subdivided into single-family lots.”
Also briefly discussed last night, in response to an audience question, is the issue of whether historic preservation of the building might help the cause. FCSA indicated it’s looking into that, but not 100 percent sure whether a landmark designation would help or hinder the process, since it carries expectations as well as benefits.
Now the $64,000 question — or should we say, the up to $18 million (if that $10 million district appraisal somehow held, though FCSA seems certain it won’t) question — where will the money come from, and how soon is it needed?
FCSA leaders said last night that the district has set a deadline of June 28 for them “to submit a plan for acquisition.” In the meantime, they have a lease extension for the site “with a significant rent increase” to February 2009. As the longtime “master tenant,” FCSA has the first right of refusal to buy the site. Now it’s just a matter of that money; they are hoping the entire purchase price can be bankrolled by public funding — for starters, the city has reportedly committed $1 million, but they expect that could rise to $2.5 million, because that’s how much they say the city’s giving to at least two of the other groups working to purchase their sites, and they expect the city will treat everyone equally. They’re hoping they might get public funding for some of the renovation cost, too.
But a capital campaign will be unavoidable. They’re just not ready to ask for your $ yet – they say they must develop the plan for what to do with the site first, so they can explain exactly what the money would be going for. They do want feedback as well as letters/notes of support to local leaders and legislators. For starters, to find out more about how to help, and/or to offer ideas, you can contact Kevin Wooley at illiniwooley (at) yahoo.com. (The group is also open to some kind of “partnership,” although with who, it’s not clear; one woman yelled out at the meeting, “Has anybody called Bill Gates?” A panelist yelled cheerily back, “Anybody got his number?”)
Additional public meetings are expected, too — the FCSA plans to organize one in late spring or early summer, and even before that, it’s expecting Seattle Public Schools will have a mandatory public hearing somewhere in West Seattle in late April about the sale of the schoolhouse. This doesn’t appear to have been officially announced yet; we are checking with the district today to see if there is a place, date, and time.