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:    SEPAcomments@seattleschools.org (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!

A New School Building

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.

New Thornton Creek School Design Unveiling, Wednesday, September 25th

New Thornton Creek School Design Unveiling
Wedgwood Community Meeting
Wednesday, September 25th, 7-9PM
Wedgwood Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall

The next Wedgwood community meeting will be on September 25th, from 7-9PM at Wedgwood Presbyterian Church (Fellowship Hall). The meeting agenda is still being refined at this point, but headlining the meeting will be the Seattle Public School District’s Design Team (Heery International and Mahlum) presenting the proposed design for the new Thornton Creek Elementary School.   The design team will briefly explain the design process, which has included feedback from a School Design Advisory Team (SDAT) comprised of community members and educators, and details of a proposed school design that will begin to go through public permitting processes.

Other expected speakers include:

  • Julianna Ross with the Magnuson Park Advisory Committee on the low watt FM community radio station being pursued for Magnuson Park;
  • Per Johnson, chair of the 35th Ave Committee, providing a brief update on the community-driven 35th Ave Neighborhood Planning process; and
  • Pastor Wim Mauldin on the upcoming 2-part community informational series on “How the  New Health Insurance Exchange Works” scheduled for (Sunday, September 29th and November 10th, 3-4:30PM at Wedgwood Community Church)

Additionally, we’ll be briefly hearing from a variety of folks on some fantastic community announcements, updates, and events.  Also, if you’ve recently become a WCC member or want to do so at the meeting, you can pick up your t-shirt or tumbler there too as we’ll have those on hand.  So, make sure to add this important community meeting to your calendar.

Pedestrian Improvements Coming to Wedgwood-area Schools

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.

New Thornton Creek School Community Meeting – Thursday, June 27th, 7-8:30PM

COMMUNITY MEETING ON THE NEW THORNTON CREEK BUILDING
THURSDAY, JUNE 27TH, 7-8:30PM
AT THORNTON CREEK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
7711 43rd AVE NE

The Seattle Public School District is hosting a community meeting on Thursday, June 27th, from 7-8:30PM to discuss the new, voter-approved K-5 elementary school to be built on the Thornton Creek Elementary School site. We have been working with the District for some time now to arrange this meeting to provide the community the opportunity to share constructive ideas to the design team and the School Design Advisory Team (SDAT). Whether or not you’re in favor of the new school, Seattle voters approved the new school and it is going to be built. So, consider this meeting to be part informational meeting and part design workshop.

The following information is on the postcard which is being sent out by the District announcing the community meeting.

Dear Wedgwood Community,

Seattle voters approved the Seattle Public Schools Building Excellence IV (BEX IV) Capital Levy in February 2013, which includes a project to construct a new elementary school building for Thornton Creek, scheduled to open for the 2016-17 school year.

The community meeting will be presented by representatives of Seattle Public Schools capital projects team and Mahlum Architects, and will include information about the project’s early design progress. You will be able to learn more about the project scope and schedule, and ask questions and provide feedback. We hope that you can join us! For more information, please visit http://bex.seattleschools.org.

PLEASE COME TO THE MEETING WITH YOUR CONSTRUCTIVE IDEAS ON HOW THE DESIGN TEAM CAN MAKE THE NEW SCHOOL WORK EXCEPTIONALLY FOR THE FUTURE STUDENTS AND FACULTY AS WELL AS THE NEIGHBORS AND THE GREATER WEDGWOOD COMMUNITY!

The School District Significantly Revised Plans for the NE Seattle K-5 School

As you may recall, last month we posted a summary of a meeting we had with Ms. Pegi McEvoy and others with the Seattle Public School District about the process for design and construction of the new NE Seattle K-5 School. The new NE Seattle K-5 school is being constructed following the overwhelming approval of Proposition 2 by Seattle voters in November 2012. While the 650 student school had originally been proposed for construction on the Thornton Creek Elementary site, local opposition from neighbors opposed to the loss of open space at the school successfully lobbied the District to modify the language within the BEX IV levy program to the following:

Northeast Seattle elementary school: To meet growing capacity, add K-5 school on Thornton Creek site by 2016 or equivalent additional seating capacity at another location.

Due to this modified language and an agreement to complete a review of additional, potential sites or options provided by the community. At last month’s School Board meeting, District staff committed to presenting the results of their review to the Superintendent on Monday, April 1st. On Tuesday, April 2nd, the District published the results of their Capital Projects and Planning website and summarized their new recommendation to the School Board.  Our summary of this revised recommendation is provided below. However, to understand this revised recommendation, it may be helpful to provide a brief history of this particular new K-5 school (so far as we’re aware).

Brief History

In June 2012 I met with a member of the Thornton Creek Site Council who explained from their perspective how the District arrived at their recommendation to build at new 650-student K-5 (at that time a K-8) school on the Thornton Creek site.  It was explained to me that in response to larger enrollment and District capacity management planning, the District wanted to bring in 4 new portables over a 4 year period and expand the enrollment of Thornton Creek Elementary school.  Thornton Creek staff and parents thought that this proposal would hurt their program.  After some public meetings, the District countered with a request that the school expands their geo-zone (e.g., where students are preferentially chosen from).  The intent was to have Thornton Creek Elementary accept more students from the attendance areas of Wedgwood, Bryant, and View Ridge elementary schools.  Also, new portables would also be added at Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Olympic View elementary schools. By December 2011, Ms. McEvoy asked Thornton Creek staff and its Site Council if it would be willing to become a K-8 school to also alleviate capacity needs at Eckstein Middle School.  In response, the Thornton Creek Site Council said that it would grow up to 500 students if the District built them a new building on their site. The District never responded to the Site Council’s counter offer. Instead, the District proposed a new 650-student K-8 attendance area school within its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which has since been revised to a new K-5 school.  Thornton Creek Elementary, an option school, would have remained in its existing building at the site.

Revised Recommendation

As we understand it, the District’s revised recommendation is essentially to build the new 650 student NE Seattle K-5 School at the Thornton Creek School site and then move the Thornton Creek Elementary program into the new school.  If capacity forecasts remain the same, the plan will likely include demolishing the existing the existing Decatur building once the new school was built.  It’s important to understand that this is only a recommendation at this point and no decisions have been formally made (to our knowledge).

Upon learning of this revised recommendation, we sent the following questions to the Ms. McEvoy and others at the District to clarify their new recommendation. Below are our questions and District responses.

Q1: Why did it take the District this long to acknowledge the Thornton Creek Parent’s Group’s offer to accept Ms.McEvoy’s counter offer, if that is what this recommendation is?
A1: Annually, the District receives updated resident enrollment projections in February.  In order to ensure that the most current information was used for this important decision, the District decided to wait to make recommendations about the NE school configurations.  Additionally, the School Board had asked for additional feasibility studies on which to base their decisions.  These became available in late March.

Q2: My presumption that the District did not move forward with this counter offer was that it ultimately did not provide the capacity needs that we’ve heard about throughout NE Seattle, which was required to alleviate overcrowding at Wedgwood, View Ridge, and Bryant Elementary Schools.  Does this proposal meet the District’s goals for meeting the forecasted capacity requirements in the Eckstein Service Area?  If not, are there other capital improvements expected to be required during subsequent BEX levies?
A2: Per the BEX IV levy, four schools will impact positively the permanent capacity for the NE region, including Thornton Creek, Olympic Hills, Jane Addams K-8 at Pinehurst and the remodeled Cedar Park.  With the subsequent boundary changes due to new schools being opened, the District believes that it can meet the projected capacity needs in the NE Seattle area.

Q3: Should this proposal be accepted by the Board, should we presume that Thornton Creek Elementary would become an attendance area school or remain an alternative school?  Would Thornton Creek Elementary also become a K-8 program, as it was suggested last year (per my understanding)?
A3: At this time, it is recommended that the Thornton Creek Elementary program remain an option K-5 school although its geo-zone may be updated during the future student assignment plan updates to help alleviate over-enrollment at nearby elementary schools.

Q4: Within the BEX IV levy program, approved under Proposition 2, the project that voters approved is described as follows:
Northeast Seattle elementary school: To meet growing capacity, add K-5 school on Thornton Creek site by 2016 or equivalent additional seating capacity at another location.” Does the District’s revised recommendation provide “equivalent additional seating capacity” at another location or otherwise?  Is so, great.  If not, would this recommendation meet the intent of Proposition 2?
A4: With the combined additional seat capacity for the four schools in the Eckstein service area, the revised recommendation would provide sufficient capacity to meet the current resident projections.

We weren’t the only ones caught off guard by this curve-ball-of-a-recommendation.  You can watch the School Board meeting from the evening of Wednesday, April 3rd, when many of the School Board members were just hearing this revised recommendation for the first time as part of Agenda Item 11, which was to authorize the construction management contract for Heery International, Inc to manage the construction of the new NE Seattle K-5 School.

In the following video, Ms. McEvoy introduces Agenda Items 10 and 11 with rationale for why the District awards construction management contracts for these type of projects.  The conversation that follows is focused on Agenda Item 10 though (not the new NE Seattle K-5 School).

The following video is the District’s presentation of their revised recommendation for the new NE Seattle K-5 School and their justification for the change. The School Board discussion and Q&A is very interesting.

Quasi-Breaking News: School District Recommending Changes to their NE Seattle K-5 School Proposal

We apologize in advance for a less-than-thorough post on this subject. We will expand on this shortly when time allows.  However, we thought it prudent to get some information out to the community as best we can about significant changes proposed by the School District on what to do with the NE Seattle K-5 School that voters approved.

As we understand it, the District’s revised recommendation (summary of alternatives and recommendation) includes constructing the new NE Seattle K-5 school building at the Thornton Creek School site (as planned) with the intent that the Thornton Creek Elementary School would relocate to the new facility with the existing Decatur School building to be demolished.  We have provided the District with a series of questions to get more information on the revised recommendation.  We hope to provide that to you along with a more thorough blog post.

In the mean time, you’re passionate one way or another on this topic, there is a School Board Meeting tonight (going on now) and this topic is to be discussed along with a construction management contract for the new school.  Here’s the website with all the detailed alternatives analysis and supporting information behind this recommendation.

Short and Long Term School District Capacity Management Decisions Coming Soon

As we’ve previously written about, the School District is in the midst of a discussion on what to do about overcrowded schools in both the short and long term.  In the next few weeks, some decisions will be made by the School Board and by the voters of Seattle.

Short Term Capacity Management

This Thursday, January 31 (5 PM at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence Auditorium), the School Board will vote during a special meeting on what to do to address short term capacity management.  The vote had been delayed until the Board could review updated attendance forecasts which were to come out this week.  One of the more controversial aspects of their decision will be on how they address overcrowding at Eckstein Middle School.  While we are not experts on this subject, there appears to be 3 options before the School District, although this is the proposal that appears to be before the District to approve as part of this action/motion.  Also, here is the agenda for the special meeting for those interested in attending.

Long Term Capacity Management

Ballots should have been delivered to your mailbox now for the upcoming election on Proposition 1 and 2.  If passed, Proposition 1 would provide approximately 25% of the School Districts operations budget while Proposition 2 would fund capital improvements which is known as the Building Excellence IV levy (BEX IV).  You’ve likely heard that part of BEX IV would include construction of a new K-5 elementary school in Northeast Seattle.  The new school was proposed for the present site of the Thornton Creek Elementary School playfields, but a grassroots campaign of local residents successfully lobbied the District to broaden the language to allow more time for other sites to be evaluated.  However, we are currently unaware of any other potential sites besides the Thornton Creek Elementary playfields that the District has evaluated as alternative sites.

While the new Northeast K-5 school is a contentious issue for many Wedgwoodians (see Comments Section of our 2013 Priorities Poll and this post), it should be noted that there’s more in the BEX IV levy than just the new school.  If Proposition 2 is passed, these other improvements would be coming to our neighborhood schools:

  • Thornton Creek School would get new athletic field improvements (although it is not clear if this is a result of the new school proposed on the ballfields)!
  • Eckstein would get a new science lab!
  • Eckstein, View Ridge Elementary, and Wedgwood Elementary School would get seismic upgrades!
  • Eckstein, View Ridge Elementary, and Wedgwood Elementary School would get new track and/or playfield upgrades!
  • Eckstein would get its roof worked on!
  • And a variety of technology upgrades…

The WCC has been asked to oppose BEX IV by those who are part of the grassroots effort to stop it.  They have done an absolutely wonderful job advocating their position to us and the District.  The WCC’s position on this issue has not changed.  To read more about the WCC’s position on BEX IV, please read the bottom of this post.  Despite our unwillingness to support or oppose the BEX IV levy, we have reached out to Lucy Morello to remind the District that the Wedgwood community expects to be part of the project design process should the voters approve Proposition 2.  We were assured by Ms. Morello that “Yes, we (the District) very much want the community represented on the School Design Team Committee (SDT) for the NE Seattle K-5 school.”

One way or another, long-term capacity management choices will be made by the voters on February 12th.

School Capacity News – Short & Long Term

By now, you’re probably aware that school capacity is a big issue at the Seattle Public School District.  Apparently, people are still having kids!  More increase is projected, so the crowding is only going to get worse.  The District has been hosting a series of meetings over the past year on what to do.  Our NE Seattle and Wedgwood-area elementary and middle school buildings are beyond the capacity they were designed for and multiple portable units are being added.  To address this, the District is looking at both short and long-term solutions.

Short Term (2013-2014) Capacity

On December 11th the District is hosting a community meeting at the John Stanford Building auditorium from 7-8:30PM to discuss their short term capacity management proposal. According to information shared at the December 5th board work session on short term capacity management, it looks like a new portable is planned for View Ridge Elementary and may be required at Wedgwood Elementary.  If you can’t make it to the December 11th meeting, a NE Seattle Capacity Management Community meeting will be held on December 17th at Olympic Hills Elementary from 6:30-8 PM.

Long Term Capacity

In November, the District formally adopted a $694.9 million Building Excellence IV (BEX IV) Levy proposal to be voted on in February 2013 (along with a $559.1 million Operations Levy…that’s $1.25 billion).  It is well known to some in Wedgwood that part of the District’s proposed long term solution to the growing capacity is a new school that is proposed to be constructed adjacent to Thornton Creek Elementary School, although language has been formally adopted by the school board in the BEX IV levy to allow some more flexibility on its location should another suitable site be identified.  The adopted text is as follows:

“Northeast Seattle elementary school: To meet growing capacity, add K-5 school on Thornton Creek site by 2016 or equivalent additional seating capacity at another location.”

Now that the BEX IV Levy proposal has formally been approved, here’s a little bit on what the levy will do in the Wedgwood area if approved:

  • A new K-5 school would be built at the Thornton Creek site or some place similar, to be open by 2016.
  • Thornton Creek School would get new athletic field improvements (although its not clear if this is a result of the new school proposed on the ball fields)!
  • Eckstein would get a new science lab!
  • Eckstein, View Ridge Elementary, and Wedgwood Elementary School would get seismic upgrades!
  • Eckstein, View Ridge Elementary, and Wedgwood Elementary School would get new track and/or playfield upgrades!
  • Eckstein would get its roof worked on!
  • And a variety of technology upgrades…

Not all of the proposed improvements have been welcomed with open arms by everyone in Wedgwood, but it’s because of these improvements and the pressing need to pass the Operations Levy, representing 27% of the District’s budget, that Schools First is hoping to emphasize how important these two levys are.