School is underway and the kids are back at Thornton Creek Elementary School in the old Decatur Building. As you likely know though, the Thornton Creek Elementary program will be relocating to a new building at the start of the 2016 school year which will be constructed on the southwest corner of the Thornton Creek Elementary School campus (40th Ave NE & NE 77th St) while the old Decatur building and parking is to remain. (The District has not shared what plans, if any, they have for the existing Decatur building yet.)
Back in July, you may recall the Department of Neighborhood’s hosted the final of 3 public departures meetings to review 3 requested departures from the City’s zoning code. The reason for these requested departures is that the City has not identified any specific land use zone for new schools within the City’s zoning code. Therefore, any new school has to conform to the zoning requirements within the land use zone where they are proposed. As the new Thornton Creek Elementary building is located within a Single-Family (SF) zone, the building is expected to conform to the zoning requirements for single-family zones. But, as you may expect, school buildings/campuses are different than single-family residences and departures are often needed for these projects. In the end, a “departures committees” comprised of residents and school officials approved the requested departures with a list of requested conditions. These conditions were reviewed and considered by the City when they Conditionally Granted the project’s Master Use Permit (MUP) on October 30th (APPEALS TO DECISION ARE DUE TO THE HEARING EXAMINER BY NOVEMBER 13, 2014). The Seattle Public School District, as the SEPA-lead agency, already issued their Determination of Non-Significance for the project back on June 30th. This MUP appeal period is the final opportunity for public comment prior to the District wrapping up the final designs and solicits the project for construction.
It is our understanding that the project is on schedule, which will see the new school begin construction in this coming spring/summer (2015) so the building is ready at the start of the 2016 school year. The only aspect of the project we understand is behind schedule is the new View Ridge Elementary athletic field, which was to be opened this summer to offset impacts to the existing Thornton Creek Elementary athletic fields. We’re currently seeking clarification on what may be holding up View Ridge Elementary athletic fields from being available this summer.
The corner of NE 77th Street and 40th Ave NE, which presently has portable classrooms, is proposed as the site of a new school building to operate in addition to the Thornton Creek School.
Wednesday, July 23rd was the third public meeting for the Thornton Creek School Departures Committee. Public comments were heard, and debate held on the merits of granting the Seattle Public Schools request for three exceptions (“departures”) to the Seattle Land Use Code. The departures would allow them to proceed with the current design for a new school building on the grounds of the Thornton Creek Elementary School (to operate alongside that school as a separate entity.)
The three departures being requested were to allow for additional building height to enclose the mechanical systems on the roof of the proposed school, to allow for on-street loading and unloading of buses on 40th Ave NE, and to allow for less than required on-site parking.
Proposed new building to be added to the present Thornton Creek School site.
Many neighbors who live across from or in close proximity to the school attended the meeting. Most of those that gave public comment voiced their concerns about increased traffic, pedestrian safety, and more general concerns about changes to the character of the neighborhood. There were also some neighbors who spoke about the desire to maintain as much open field space as possible to accommodate the increasing number of children who live in Northeast Seattle.
The Departures Committee had previously approved the request to allow for additional building height to enclose the mechanical systems on the roof of the new school. After the public comment period ended, the Departures Committee debated the merits of the two remaining exceptions: bus loading and on-site parking.
With the help of staff from Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the committee eventually crafted a list of several conditions that they wanted to see implemented if the departure requests were approved. After the list was complete, a majority voted to grant the departures with the conditions suggested by the committee. Links to info about trees on the school site are given in comments below, following this article.
3rd Departure Meeting for New Thornton Creek Elementary
Wednesday, July 23rd, 6:30PM
Thornton Creek Elementary Cafeteria
Two previous departure meetings (June 3rd and July 9th) have been held for the new Thornton Creek Elementary School already to discuss 3 requested departures” from the Seattle Land Use Code since there is no zone where schools are allowed. The 3 requested departures include:
- Greater than allowed building height: Necessary to accommodate a mechanical penthouse on the roof of the school building and enclose mechanical equipment.
- Less than required on-site parking: Proposing to provide 63 parking spaces for the on-site parking spaces as required per code.
- Continuation of on-street bus loading and unloading: Load buses along 40th Ave NE for the new Thornton Creek Elementary while the remaining Decatur building and future school program would load along 43rd Ave NE.
The Departures Committee, which is a group of community and school district representatives compiled by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, will prepare a recommendation to the City of Seattle who will ultimately approve or deny the departures. Conditions may be imposed on the approval of some of these conditions.
SEPA DNS Issued
Additionally, the Seattle Public School District has issued their State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) for project. This document states that the project will have no significant environmental impact. The appeal period, which was supposed to close today, has been extended to Friday, July 25th at 5PM. A written notice of appeal can be submitted to:
Seattle Public Schools
P.O. Box 34165, MS 32-151
Seattle, WA 98124-1165
2nd Departures Meeting for New Thornton Creek Elementary
Thornton Creek Elementary Cafeteria
On June 3rd, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods hosted a “departures meeting” to review 3 departures from the zoning code requested by the Seattle Public School District for the new Thornton Creek Elementary School. The 3 departures requested were:
1. Greater than allowed building height.
2. Less than required on-site parking.
3. Continuation of on-street bus loading and unloading.
There was a pretty good turn out for the first departures meeting, but there were still enough concerns from those in attendance and the departures committee to warrant a 2nd meeting.
Thornton Creek Elementary School Departures Meeting
Tuesday, June 3rd, 6:3oPM
Thornton Creek ES Cafeteria
The City and School District have scheduled a public departures meeting for Tuesday, June 3rd, 6:30PM in the Thornton Creek Elementary School cafeteria. As it turns out, there is no zone within the Seattle Zoning Code that allows schools. Therefore, each time a new school is proposed, it has to obtain departures from the zoning code. The departures meeting allows the public to listen and comment on each departure requested from the District. A Departures Advisory Committee, which includes community members including the Wedgwood Community Council’s landuse committee chair, has been formed to listen and review the departures. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods posted a notice of the public meeting with the following departures being requested by the District:
- Greater than allowed building height.
- Less than required on-site parking.
- Continuation of on-street bus loading and unloading.
If you cannot attend the meeting, you can send comments to the following contact:
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
700 5th Avenue, Suite 1700
P.O. Box 94649
Seattle, WA 98124-4649
For more information, call Steve Sheppard at 684-0302, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Principal John Miner of Thornton Creek Elementary has informed us that there will be a SEPA community meeting on Wednesday, 4/23 at 7:00PM at Thornton Creek Elementary.
Last Friday (April 11th), the Seattle Public School District issued their DRAFT State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Checklist for the new Thornton Creek Elementary School building. The DRAFT SEPA Checklist assesses the project (e.g., the new Thornton Creek School) and its environmental impact. This project-level DRAFT SEPA Checklist is different from the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was associated with the Building Excellence IV Capital Levy in that the DRAFT SEPA Checklist provides project-specific description and analysis. The Public Comment period on the DRAFT SEPA Checklist is open until 5:00PM, May 2nd. All public comments should be sent to the District’s SEPA Official, Ms. Pegi McEvoy.
The District has also issued an addendum to the BEX IV Programmatic EIS for the relocation of existing portables on the Thornton Creek Elementary School site.
A link to the new school design can be found HERE. More information about the new $42.8 million Thornton Creek Elementary School project can be found on the District’s BEX IV website.
Pegi McEvoy, SEPA Official
Seattle School District No. 1
P.O. Box 34165, MS 22-183
Seattle, WA 98124-1165
Telephone: (206) 252-0102
Email: SEPAcomments@seattleschools.org (please include project name in the email subject line)
Northward view along 40th Ave NE: this view will change dramatically when a new school is built at the corner of NE 77th Street.
In the coming two years there will be enormous changes in Wedgwood along 40th Ave NE as construction will begin for a new school building at the corner of NE 77th Street. Using Building Excellence Program levy funds (BEX IV) an additional school, to be operated separately, will be built alongside the present Thornton Creek School at Decatur, 7711 43rd Ave NE.
It has been more than sixty years since a new school building has been constructed in the Wedgwood neighborhood. With Nathan Eckstein Junior High in 1950 and Wedgwood Elementary in 1953, Stephen Decatur Elementary was the last, opening in September 1961. For many years Decatur School was home to an Alternative Program so in 2008 the program name, Thornton Creek, became the identifier. (Read here on Valarie’s history blog about the school names.)
Here is a link to the site for tracking the progress of the new school, scheduled to open in September 2016. Because it had been so many years since a new school was built, there was much interaction with present-day design processes, to include traffic and transportation studies, and planning for utilities. More planning and construction updates will be posted as they become available. Groundbreaking is currently scheduled for January 2015.
UPDATE: According to Jim Curtin with SDOT, the “Complete the Street” project would likely go to construction in 2015, assuming the Council approves the funding.
Over the last couple months, the City Council and Mayor have been working out exactly what to do with all the cash raised from the school-zone speed light cameras. They’ve generally agreed that the money should go to improving safety projects around schools, but the exact structure of the funding mechanism was in debate. However, recently the Council ended up creating a separate fund exclusively for these funds and these projects.
Yesterday, the Mayor proposed $14.8 million in safety projects from this special fund (see list of projects below). Of the projects proposed for funding, several occur around Wedgwood! The proposed $14.8 million funding does still need to be approved by Council and according to the Seattle Times, the Council already approved $2.9 million, would be asked for $3.3 million this fall, and $8.6 million next year.
Of the projects in or near our neighborhood, perhaps the largest and most exciting project is one that a former WCC trustee and Wedgwood Elementary PTA President, Katie Traverse, has championed for many years. Katie’s project, which ended up being titled “Complete the Street,” would construct new sidewalks and pedestrian improvements from the recently improved Ravenna Ave NE up to Wedgwood Elementary School along 28th Avenue NE , NE 83rd Street, and NE 85th Street. You can download the 60% plans HERE. Thanks to $730,000 from this funding and a $439,000 grant from the state, the City will be able to finally construct the Complete the Street project bringing much needed safety improvements to Wedgwood Elementary. This is a HUGELY successful project and long-term effort by Katie Traverse and everyone associated with it.
In addition to Katie’s project, other pedestrian and safety improvements for nearby schools include:
- Filling in gaps of sidewalk along 40th Ave NE between NE 75th and NE 76th Streets by Thornton Creek Elementary School to complement the frontage and safety improvements that the School District will be required to perform.
- Constructing new curb ramps at NE 60th and NE 62nd Street along the new 39th Ave Greenway for improved safety and access to Bryant Elementary and Eckstein Middle School.
Many other safety improvements are proposed throughout the City where they’re desperately needed as part of the Mayor’s announcement, putting to good use the funds collected by those that fail to drive the speed limit through school zones. So when you get your first speed camera ticket for going too fast along NE 75th Street in front of Eckstein Middle School, rest easy knowing your money will be spent to make it easier and safer for kids to walk and bike to school.
Here’s a smattering of additional information for those interested in reading more.