West Seattle’s first charter school? Remodel/addition proposal at 35th/Roxbury church site

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Arbor Heights already has two school-construction projects under way – and might soon have a third.

Reviewing city permit application files today, we discovered a just-filed early-stage proposal to remodel and add to what is currently the Jesus Center/Freedom Church building at 35th/Roxbury, in the name of Los Angeles-based Pacific Charter School Development.

The one document publicly visible in the Department of Planning and Development system so far, dated December 31st, is a roughed-out site plan, showing the addition primarily along the Roxbury side of the 2 1/3-acre site.

In addition to the land-use permit filing, we’ve also found a one-month-old LLC filing listing the site’s official address – 9601 35th SW – and listing PCSD’s Washington branch, Washington Charter School Development, as the sole member. The company’s website says it works with charter-school management organizations, so it may not necessarily be the potential operator.

We can’t find any record of a past application for a charter school at this site, or anywhere else in West Seattle, but the next application period is just a month away, opening in mid-February, according to the Washington Charter School Commission website. Of the 10 charter schools approved since a statewide vote legalized them two years ago, the list includes approval for a charter-management organization called Green Dot to open one at an undetermined “South Seattle” site in fall 2016 (added: Green Dot had an informational event in West Seattle last summer). And a charter middle school called Rainier Prep, says it is planning to open in the Highline area this fall, but has no location finalized yet, according to its online FAQ.

Freedom Church bought the site, a former supermarket, for $2.8 million in 2008, according to county records. The 2 1/3-acre site is zoned NC3-40, meaning it could be developed up to four stories, though this proposal mentions only the two-story addition, and renovation of the one-story existing building.

We’ll be following up on this tomorrow, seeking answers to a variety of questions.

SIDE NOTE: The site has four current/future schools within less than a mile – 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.

35 Replies to "West Seattle's first charter school? Remodel/addition proposal at 35th/Roxbury church site"

  • dsa January 4, 2015 (8:53 pm)

    Is Mary Jane still kitty corner from there? If the school had come first wouldn’t that have trumped the dispensary? Does it work in reverse?

    • WSB January 4, 2015 (8:59 pm)

      That’s something else I’m looking into. Northwest Patient Resource Center is indeed at the same intersection. But the medical-marijuana situation seems to be in a world of flux.

  • enid January 5, 2015 (6:07 am)

    No, no, and no. This area will already be impossible in terms of traffic once the new AH school opens. Another school on this busy corner is a ridiculous idea. But something else concerns me more. My suspicion when the charter school proposals first arose was that this was a sneaky way to get taxpayers to fund religious education. The fact that this school will be attached to Freedom Church seems to substantiate that.

  • JoB January 5, 2015 (7:49 am)

    i do’t think there is any question that public dollars will be used to fund an education that has been edited to religious parameters.. regardless of whether the school is tied to a religious organization or not.
    the mechanism for a small group of parents to take over the school’s curriculum makes charter schools ripe for dogamatic interference.

  • j January 5, 2015 (7:56 am)

    Our neighborhood lacks shopping and dining options. Our neighborhood is NOT in need of another school. Is the city concerned about having well balanced neighborhoods anymore?
    Our store goes away, taken over by a non-tax paying entity which then eliminates us from ever again having shopping relatively close. No thank you! But what say do we have anyway?

  • enid January 5, 2015 (9:00 am)

    Agree with Job and j. Arbor Heights has no amenities whatsoever – not even a coffee shop. We have all the downsides (traffic, crime) of big city living with none of the perks. That corner could – and, IMO, should – be a thriving retail center that AH residents could walk to. Instead, we have a mega-church with a vast empty parking lot and two pot shops. What happened to the “urban village” concept? If this school is allowed, that will be proof that the City is FOS – as if we didn’t know that already.

    • WSB January 5, 2015 (9:09 am)

      This corner looks to be just outside the Westwood/HP “urban village” boundaries (though I think that intersection is or might be designated a pedestrian retail area, perhaps, per one of the city’s ongoing classification projects.) Also, just for the record, NWPRC on the east side of 35th/Roxbury is a dispensary but the place across 35th deals in authorizations, not in the marijuana itself. P.S. I’m sure this will eventually land on the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council‘s radar – again, the first sign of the plan just turned up in the system 12/31 and I just found it last night via the equivalent of looking under a rock, which is my job! – but I’ve just been reminded they don’t meet tomorrow night; WWRHAH’s next meeting will be February 3rd. – TR

  • ACG January 5, 2015 (10:53 am)

    Two things I am thinking of.

    First, I know NWPRC is a medical dispensary. But, didn’t the owner also apply for a retail location? And, I thought I read that if one of the upcoming retail sites gets disqualified, this site would become eligible for a retail pot shop. Am I correct on this? And would this school negate the site from consideration?
    Second, while having amenities at that corner would be awesome, considering that location as a “pedestrian friendly zone” (or whatever you call it) is LAUGHABLE. The neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the intersection to the west and south have NO SIDEWALKS (with the exception of the newly installed few blocks of sidewalk along 35th).
    I live in the neighborhood and would love to walk to that intersection if there was something interesting there. But I do not feel safe navigating my stroller on the street with traffic zipping by to get there.

    • WSB January 5, 2015 (11:00 am)

      Still researching followup points including the dispensary, but another wrinkle as of this morning – the city attorney is suggesting that the “medical” wing of the marijuana industry really needs to merge into the retail wing. Might publish something separately on this later – it does not appear to be linked on the city website yet.

  • Rick January 5, 2015 (11:09 am)

    So I guess I’m a wimby/nimby? Ya know, I want this in my backyard but not that.

  • zark00 January 5, 2015 (12:44 pm)

    Holmes started talking about “merging” the Medical with retail last May or earlier – it’s the same sound bite he keeps regurgitating with nothing new to back it up. The state still wants Med facilities licensed by July 2015, and they still haven’t got a license, a path to licensing available, or even a basic outline. Closest thing is this “new” (same old garbage) proposal from Holmes. Let’s just sue and or arrest all the medical facilities, that’ll fix it. Nice one Holmes – you couldn’t have come up with a better was to bolster the black market if you tried.
    Holmes aside, the Liquor Control Board should really be blamed for abject failure of the legalization effort. They’re actually now issuing refunds for the licensing application fee – really – it’s unbelievable. Those fees are NEVER refunded, WSLCB has opened the state to massive litigation risk, they are now running scared and will do anything they can to get those applicants off the books. You must ‘withdraw’ your app to get a refund – clever – they can then pretend you never applied and they never did anything wrong. They’re a really slimy and very poorly run organization.

  • AH-er January 5, 2015 (12:50 pm)

    Great sleuthing Tracey!

    This is a ridiculous plan and should go in the round file. This corner is suitable for mixed-use retail.

  • zark00 January 5, 2015 (1:38 pm)

    Not new – he started talking about it June last year:

  • enid January 5, 2015 (4:03 pm)

    Something else has been bugging me about this story all day. I wish someone would do some research into “Freedom Church”. Who are they? What do they do? I haven’t noticed services being held there. And where in hell did they get $2.8 MILLION dollars to buy that property – tax exempt, presumably, at a time when most churches are struggling? How does that status change if they create a school which is a physical extension of the church? How can they possibly claim this will not be a religion based school when they are housed in the same building?

    This proposal by the “church” demands a LOT of scrutiny.

    • WSB January 5, 2015 (4:36 pm)

      You’re assuming we HAVEN’T done research? They have been at the site for about a decade, for several years before buying it. They have an extensive website, which is linked to their name in the story. We’ve only been inside a few times, but yes, they have services. They also have a youth-violence-prevention program, and partnerships with a variety of nonprofits. Again, *the church* is not making the charter school proposal. A company/agency that makes a living from building/setting up charter schools is. The document (also linked in this story) says “current owner, Freedom Church/pending (owner), Washington Charter School Development.” As for $2.8 million, it’s not unusual to see church property worth 7 digits. See Mars Hill/now Trinity WS, for example. There’s lots of documentation in the county system about Freedom’s lease pre-purchase, and the purchase; I don’t have time to analyze it, nor reason, at this point, but if you go to King County Online Records and search for Freedom Church, it all comes up (unlike the court system, you don’t even have to pay to read it).
      As for the overall followup, we were hoping to have more by now but so far today, I have heard back from exactly zero of the people I have reached out to in hopes of finding out more – not even the Washington Charter School Commission itself, which is disappointing, given that these schools function with taxpayer dollars (plus a lot of investment from nonprofits such as the Gates Foundation), but I’m willing to spot them all one “get back to normal post-holiday” day, and then I restart trying again to reach them tomorrow. Happens that way with more than a few stories, but as you have to be in this line of work, we persevere … – TR

  • AH-er January 5, 2015 (6:19 pm)

    Thanks WSB. Yes, the Freedom Church has been a good neighbor (although I think one of their renters may have created some issues for a few immediate neighbors with respect to dust).

    They are a friendly, welcoming and charismatic congregation that does MUCH to give to less fortunate neighbors and families. There are many less giving and charitable organizations in WS.

  • Macrina January 5, 2015 (7:26 pm)

    I’d like to see good development here with an urban community center and maybe a transit hub. Meeting space. Nice cafe for public use and *maybe* a helipad.

  • JL January 5, 2015 (8:08 pm)

    Although I’m unclear about what exactly the charter school will do (I personally have been mostly on the fence re charters, albeit increasingly more and more leaning against), for those who are uncertain about Freedom Church I’d highly recommend attending even for just part of a service some Sunday.

    I’ve attended several times over the last several years – the people are wonderfully open and care about the community. I suspect they are looking at the opportunity to have a school on their site as a youth outreach opportunity – maybe a bit naively partnering with charters, but definitely with the best of intentions for their community.

    It has a large African-American population and considering how African-American students do statistically in Seattle Public Schools it is possible that this is seen as a true community outreach project. I don’t know, thus hope they respond ASAP and look forward to hearing it.

    Oh, it’s no Mars Hill. Neither was really my style, but the people at Freedom/Jesus Center are way more neighborly & community focused.

  • Jason January 5, 2015 (8:08 pm)

    I live nearby and have found there to be zero problems with the church, in fact they seem to do a lot of good work for the community there or are at least trying based on what they usually put on their billboards (accepting donations etc).
    The document also shows current owner being the church and new owner being the charter school org, so we don’t know if that church is involved in the school, so let’s not jump to conclusions about religious organizations getting public funding for schools.
    As for you people that say we don’t need another school in the area when there isn’t even a coffee shop around here – are you actually being serious? If so you might want to consider taking a self-imposed time out to contemplate how absurd you sound.

  • Julie January 5, 2015 (8:21 pm)

    Not taking sides on the proposed school being located here, although I do think some useful retail we could walk to would be preferable for the community. But I disagree with Enid’s comment, “How can they possibly claim this will not be a religion based school when they are housed in the same building?”. Churches rent space to non-religious schools. Tilden School, for example, rents space from the First Lutheran Church in the Junction, but is a completely secular school, and not otherwise affiliated with the church.

  • ClarkGrl January 5, 2015 (8:24 pm)

    My husband used to teach at Roxhill and the school had several “inside recess” days because of gang related funeral services held at this church. The police notify the school of the funerals because they are concerned about possible gang retaliation. Nothing ever happened while he was there, but it always made me nervous.

  • Jason January 5, 2015 (9:19 pm)

    ClarkGrl honestly I’d have been more concerned for your husband’s proximity to the park next to the school than that church up the street.

  • evergreen January 5, 2015 (10:29 pm)

    I am personally glad we are getting a charter option for HS, for otherwise I would probably fork out for private….as long as this new option is academically rigorous, safe, and non-religious, of course.

  • Trick January 5, 2015 (10:54 pm)

    Gosh, went to the link, and realized how long ago that was! cops in vans with camera’s, lot’s of unmarked spd vehicles, etc. but that was the last one I can remember, luckily.
    For the most part, they’re a good neighbor, I get to have a gospel brunch every Sunday from my yard, they maintain the grounds pretty well in the perimeter of their lot.
    I’m with Job on this, not a big fan of religious
    charter schools using tax dollars, so we’ll have to find out more if they respond back to WSB.
    Thanks Tracy for the thorough info you provided.

  • wsn00b January 5, 2015 (11:05 pm)

    What happens to the existing Westside school building?

    • WSB January 6, 2015 (12:06 am)

      WSN – Westside’s current building, the former EC Hughes Elementary, remains owned by Seattle Public Schools, which for starters has said it will keep the building as emergency backup – that’s what the Boren Building on Delridge had been, between its uses as interim sites for various schools, but now it is K-5 (rolling up to K-8) STEM’s permanent home and won’t have much if any room for that in the future (after its current stint also housing Arbor Heights Elementary while its new building is in progress) …

  • evergreen January 5, 2015 (11:33 pm)

    Westside is currently in an SPS rental and is remodeling/repurposing a church for their next location. I think SPS plans to use the building for emergencies.

  • Chris January 6, 2015 (11:05 am)

    I wish you could see the actual entrance/access to the church on these plans otherwise it looks as if the building are connected and therefore of the same use.

  • Lynn January 6, 2015 (11:14 am)

    It looks from the plans like the church will be selling the property to Pacific Charter (the pending owner.)

  • Lynn January 6, 2015 (1:10 pm)


    What do you know about Green Dot Charter Schools that makes them more attractive to you than Chief Sealth, Denney, West Seattle High School and Madison? They appear to use a blended learning (online instruction) approach.

    Here’s a link to their student policy manual: http://www.greendot.org/uploaded/Website_Files/PDF/Green_Dot_Student_Policy_Manual_2013-2014.pdf

  • WSParent January 7, 2015 (7:03 pm)

    I am confused about the high school references in the comments. I don’t see anything about a Charter HS coming to AH. It is highly possible that I am missing something in my reading, b/c I need glasses! LOL

    • WSB January 7, 2015 (7:27 pm)

      There is a bit more documentation that is making it look like this *is* the Green Dot plan for a 6-12th grade school. Followup to come, it’s been REALLY hard to get more info, I’m really disappointed at the nonresponsiveness, but oh well.

  • Nancy R. January 8, 2015 (8:11 am)

    Many secular private schools rent space in churches because churches have unused space during the weekday. Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences middle school is housed in a synagogue. Tilden is the other example that was given. I agree that waiting to see what the proposal is makes sense. If someone thinks that a different development is a higher and better use, then you should propose a solution, get funding for it, and make the church an offer.

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