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Seattle School Board Ponders Another Push For Vacant Downtown Building

Kyle Stokes
The former Federal Reserve Bank branch building in downtown Seattle.

Seattle Public Schools leaders are once again actively pursuing a vacant downtown building as the future site of a new public school. 

School board members will vote Wednesday on whether to authorize a district bid for the building, once home to Seattle's Federal Reserve Bank branch, in a public auction set to close on Jan. 28. The discussion comes just months after the district passed onthe chance to take over the property.

Though the district could have obtained the deed to the building at practically no cost late last year, the federal government would've imposed strict deadlines for completing an estimated $53 million in renovations the building requires. That would have forced the district to break its own policies against spending money it doesn't have.

Obtaining the building at auction would let Seattle Public Schools set its own timelines, giving district officials time to come up with the funding for the project, likely through adding it to a property tax levy request district voters would have to approve.

'This Isn't The End Of The Line'

"We need a K-5 elementary school and additional pre-K capacity in downtown," said Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.

The organization has advocated for its own "neighborhood school" for years. But real estate downtown is pricey and efforts to fold a school into other developments in the area haven't worked out.

"It's our hope the district bids and that they're successful," Scholes added. "If they're not, this is isn't the end of the line by any means of working to locate a K-5 school in additional space [downtown]."

How Much Will The Building Command At Auction?

Officials at the General Services Administration, which is overseeing the online auction, lowered the minimum bid amount from $5 million to $1 million early last week. But where might the bidding go from there?

Seattle Public Schools' director of capital projects Richard Best told school board members earlier this month that there was one other firm signed up to bid in the auction, which requires a $100,000 refundable deposit. But the auction website shows no bids for the property and a GSA spokesperson said she couldn't confirm whether another bidder had signed up.

Judging from assessments of other nearby properties, the land alone for the Federal Reserve property is likely worth around $20 million. But Scholes points out the building, as an historic property, has use restrictions that could make it less attractive to high-rise developers.

The district has commissioned its own appraisal of the building. If the school board approves the bid, district officials could submit a bid of up to "10 percent over the appraisal amount." Seattle Public Schools spokesperson Stacy Howard says the district isn't disclosing the results of that appraisal for now.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.