Seattle school board rejects downtown building for elementary school

On Wednesday Seattle Public Schools turned down an offer to take over the old Federal Reserve Bank on Second Avenue for free.

SEATTLE — The Seattle Public Schools board of directors unanimously rejected a gift from the federal government of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, citing huge required costs for renovation.

The building, at 1015 2nd Avenue, is currently vacant. The federal government offered the building for free to Seattle Public Schools, but required the district to renovate and open a school in the location within three years.

The district estimated the cost to be at least $53 million.

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“We would have to basically borrow against a future levy, and to do so would also violate board policy,” said Board Director Sue Peters.

Peters, and all other board members, said they would rather buy the building at auction, to acquire it without any strings attached.

Board directors said going along with the federal government’s requirements would put this downtown school at the top of the priority list, while other projects are currently more pressing.

Board Director Sharon Peaslee said she would earnestly ask the federal government to submit a new offer, “to truly give us this building free with no caveats, with no restrictions.”

Parents and downtown residents told the school board they desperately need a place for a growing population of children.

“We need these seats downtown today and we'll need them in the future. And we'll never be able to get them this cheaply again,” said Michael George, whose son will be going to kindergarten in a few years.

The Downtown Seattle Association said the largest growing demographic downtown is children ages 5 to 9.

Randy Hurlow, who lives in a condominium close to the federal building, said he has observed a trend in the last 20 years he’s lived downtown: “I've been saddened to watch more people than I can count, move into my building, get married, have a child. The child turns about 4 and a 1/2, and they have to move out because there is no downtown school.”

Some board directors said schools within a few-mile radius have capacity to accept some of the children who live downtown. Still, they said they would be interested in acquiring this building on their own timeline.

Jon Scholes, with the Downtown Seattle Association, said he expected this result.

“This isn’t the end. This has been a long road for quite some time, and so one more chapter here,” Scholes said.