New Thornton Creek Elementary School to Break Ground in May 2015.

Illustration of the entrance to the new Thornton Creek Elementary School

The Seattle Public School District cleared its final hurdle to building a new school on the Decatur School campus at 40th Ave NE and NE for the NE 77th St for the existing Thornton Creek Elementary program to relocate to.  On March 11th, the city’s hearing examiner issued their final ruling following an appeal by the Seattle Committee to Save Schools (the Committee) on the District’s Master Use Permit (MUP) and the departures to the city’s zoning code.  The appeal occurred on February 27th.  The city’s hearing examiner decision dismissed one of the Committee’s appeal issues regarding potentially radioactive materials on site while also slightly modifying the previously approved development standards relating to parking, staggered pick up/drop off times, and frontage improvements.  With the city’s final decision, the MUP has been approved and issued to the District.  All that remains are for the District to receive the building permits, which have been reviewed and approved but not yet issued (they’re expected to be issued next week).

With this decision and the imminent approval of the building permits, the District is nearly set to begin construction on the new school this May.  In preparation of this, the District solicited bids from contractors for the project with bids due on March 12th.  After review of the bids, the District selected Forma Construction Company, which has experience building K-12 schools and higher learning facilities.  According to Mike Skutack, the District’s project manager overseeing the project, the contractor’s bid included all alternates (additional design features and amenities) requested by the District and was within the District’s budget.  The project is expected to be substantially complete by July 2016.

A Hearing for a New School

Note: A correction was made to this post to clarify that only one school is planned to operate on the site following construction.  The existing Decatur School building will remain on site, however, with the future of that building still uncertain.   See the results of the February 27 hearing, and the March 20, 2015 updated school construction info here.

It has been more than fifty years since a new school was built in the Wedgwood neighborhood and in that time Seattle’s land use regulations and building codes have become more complicated.  Since 2012 the Seattle Public School District has been working on plans to expand capacity by constructing a separate, new building, on the present site of Thornton Creek School at 7711 43rd Ave NE (original building name:  Decatur School.)

In 2013-2014 a series of public meetings were held on the new-school plan and a Departures Committee reviewed the plans and made requests.  The “departures” were items where the school building would “depart from” the restrictions of a single-family building zone.  At the end of 2014 a group of people who were not satisfied with the process, appealed to the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner.  The hearing was held on Friday, February 27, 2015 and was heard by Sue A. Tanner, Hearing Examiner.

The new school site plan was discussed at the hearing on February 27, 2015.

The hearing on Friday, February 27, was conducted courtroom-style with the attorney for the school district, Richard Hill, calling witnesses and eliciting testimony on the planning process for the new school building.  Michael Skutack, Senior Project Manager for Capital Projects of the Seattle Public Schools, explained how the new-school project met the district’s standards for preparation and planning.

The site plan is for the new building to be located closest to the corner of 40th Ave NE at NE 77th Street. Parking and traffic patterns (school drop-off and bus zones) are arranged to access the building.  The north portion of the block is reserved for playground, athletic field and open space.  Plans are tentatively for both buildings to remain (existing Decatur School building plus new school building) although only the new Thornton Creek Elementary school program would operate.  Should the District open another program return to the Decatur School building in the future, which is still to be determined, plans have been developed for staggered start times and dismissal times with a 45-minute buffer for people to circulate around each building.

Extensive improvements will need to be made along 40th Ave NE and on NE 80th Street which lacks curbs and sidewalks.  Some improvements will also be needed to the sidewalks and curbs on NE 77th Street.  Bus drop-off zones will be created on 40th Ave NE and the current Metro bus stop will have to be moved.

At the hearing on February 27, 2015, Mr. Hill was the attorney representing the school district and Ms. Godard testified for DPD.

Environmental soil testing was done for arsenic, asbestos, and lead in the soil of the fields around the present school building and the space where the new school is to be built.  No unusual levels were found.  A matter of dispute was whether testing for radioactivity is needed or not, and this was brought before the Hearing Examiner.  The school district’s hazardous materials testing did not include radioactivity.

Paula Johnson, Pacific Northwest Cultural Resources Director at Environmental Science Associates testified about the evaluation done at the request of the school district, to determine whether anything of historical or archaeological value could potentially be discovered at the site while new-school construction is going on.  The site was evaluated as at low risk of encountering archaeological data.  The site is not a known historical area and was unlikely to have been used by native Americans because the site is not near water.  The school site has already been dug up and reconfigured more than once since the 1940′s when the Shearwater Navy housing was built there.  From that time, through the 1960s when the present Decatur School building was constructed, the school block has been graded and reconfigured.  Ms. Johnson worked with the environmental-review process and also created an “inadvertent discovery plan” of how to proceed should anything of historical value be found on-site.

Holly Godard, Senior Land Use Planner with Seattle’s Department of Planning & Development (DPD) worked on the review of the school district’s plans for the new building.   DPD reviews plans to make sure they meet all construction and zoning requirements.  Issues which have to do with traffic, such as staggered start times, drop-off zones and school bus loading zones are not part of the building itself and therefore are not overseen by DPD.  It is Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) which must work with the new school project to address street improvements.

Curbs, sidewalks, and bus loading zones will need to be put in place on the surrounding streets to serve the new school.

Sean Dugan is a principal consulting arborist with Tree Solutions Incorporated which assessed the trees which are on the Thornton Creek School site now.  The baseline survey of significant trees at TC School is in the documents submitted with the environmental review (SEPA checklist.)  Mr. Dugan found 53 significant trees of 143 on the site.  He made recommendations for tree protection measures.   He reviewed the landscape plan which includes some tree removal during school building construction.  At the close of construction, 163 new trees are to be planted which will improve the tree canopy at the school site.

Tod McBryan, principal transportation engineer at Heffron Transportation, testified at the hearing about the transportation impact analysis which he prepared for the new school project.  To understand traffic impacts, data was collected around the site including observation of arrival/dismissal of students, and a count of available parking both on-site and on nearby streets.  Recommendations were for a transportation management plan including travel routes for drop-off of students.

At the conclusion of the hearing on February 27, Hearing Examiner Sue A. Tanner stated that a decision on the appeal of the “departures” discussed at the hearing, will be issued by or before March 17, 2015.  The decision of the Hearing Examiner will be posted on this page, and upcoming news about the start of construction of the new school building.

Appeal Hearing Scheduled for the new Thornton Creek Elementary

According to a recent Department of Planning (DPD) land use information bulletin, the conditional approval of the departures to the development standards and the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) conditional determination for the proposed Thornton Creek Elementary School has been appealed.  As such, there will be a public appeal hearing on Friday, February 27th, at 9AM.  The appeal hearing will be held in Room 4009 in the Seattle Municipal Tower (700 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104).

New Thornton Creek Elementary School – UPDATE

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.

New Thornton Creek school departure requests approved

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 Scheduled for New Thornton Creek Elementary School, plus the SEPA DNS Issued

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:

  1. Greater than allowed building height: Necessary to accommodate a mechanical penthouse on the roof of the school building and enclose mechanical equipment.
  2. Less than required on-site parking: Proposing to provide 63 parking spaces for the on-site parking spaces as required per code.
  3. 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.


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 Departure Meeting for New Thornton Creek Elementary, Wednesday, July 9th

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.

New Thornton Creek Elementary School Departures Meeting, Tues, June 3rd

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:

  1. Greater than allowed building height.
  2. Less than required on-site parking.
  3. Continuation of on-street bus loading and unloading.

If you cannot attend the meeting, you can send comments to the following contact:

Steve Sheppard
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

Seattle Public School District Seeking Comments on DRAFT SEPA Checklist for New Thornton Creek Elementary School

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: (please include project name in the email subject line)

You’re Invited: Greenway Extension Open House, Thursday March 27

The Seattle Department of Transportation is planning an extension of the 39th Ave NE Greenway north of NE 77th St, past Thornton Creek Elementary School, and towards Our Lady of the Lake (the exact route is to be determined).  Greenways are roads that are designed to be safer for pedestrians and bicycles.  Cars are not prohibited on greenways.

The existing 39th Ave NE Greenway was constructed thanks to funding from Children’s Hospital and opened in October 2012. According to  one month of data (Jan 2014), the existing 39th Ave NE Greenway saw about 5,000 bike trips, according to City data crunched by the Seattle Bike Blog! The NE Seattle Greenways group, part of the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Group, has met numerous times to identify potential greenway routes through NE Seattle and connected to other neighborhoods, creating a City-wide network of safer roads for pedestrians and bicycles.  The funding for this greenway extension is funded through the Bridging the Gap Levy.

According to the City’s website, the project schedule is as follows:

March 2014: Public Meeting
Spring 2014: Site visits, evaluation, design and additional outreach
Fall 2014: Construction

See you there!