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Aiming To Open First Downtown School In Decades, Seattle Schools Will Bid On Building

Kyle Stokes
Scattered office furniture and supplies inside the vacant building that once housed the Federal Reserve Bank branch in downtown Seattle.

Seattle Public Schools officials will enter an auction for a vacant building downtown, the first significant step the board has taken toward opening what would be the first public school in the neighborhood since 1949.

School board members voted unanimously Wednesday night to authorize the district to enter a bid for the former Federal Reserve Bank building.

A Long Road & A Long Way To Go

If the district wins at auction, the next step would be finding the money to fund an estimated $53 million-worth of renovations the building needs to become an elementary or middle school. That money would likely come from folding the project into the district's next property tax request, due to go before voters in February 2016.

Downtown interests have been clamoring for their own public school for a decade, but have thus far hit dead-ends trying to fold schools into other building projects or finding property for a school in a pricey real estate market.

Last November, the federal government would have offered Seattle Public Schools the deed to the Federal Reserve building at practically no cost, but with strings attached. Board members turned it down, saying the district would have had to go into debt to finance the renovations ahead of  deadlines federal officials would've imposed.

How The Auction Would Work

The minimum bid in the auction, which the federal government's General Services Administration is overseeing, is $1 million. 

Seattle Public Schools officials have obtained their own estimate of the building's cost and, under the measure board members approved, can bid "up to 10 percent over the appraisal amount." A district spokesperson declined to specify the appraisal amount.

The district has $5 million in property tax levy funds set aside to plan and evaluate sites for a downtown school. Should the bidding go higher than that, the school board's action would allow the district to dip into a reserve fund to cover the cost.

'It Will Serve The Students Of Seattle Better'

As of Wednesday night, no bids have been entered in the online auction and a GSA spokesperson said she couldn't disclose whether any other bidders had registered.

Though district leaders hope historic building preservation provisions will scare off some bidders looking to develop the property, the district's director of capital projects said earlier this month there would be at least one other bidder for the building.

"I just hope that the citizens of Seattle that are eyeing this building will have enough of a civic conscience to recognize that it will probably serve the students of Seattle better than it will serve them," Peaslee said with a smile just before the vote.

Board president Sherry Carr also voiced "enthusiastic" support for the proposal.

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