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Seattle Public Schools Falls Short In Auction For Downtown Building

Kyle Stokes

UPDATED — Seattle Public Schools has fallen short in bidding for a vacant downtown building, meaning the district’s search for a downtown school site has hit another dead end.

The district did not win the former Federal Reserve building in a government-run online auction that closed Saturday afternoon, officials confirmed.That means despite more than a decade of advocacy from downtown residents and business interests, the area will remain the only Seattle neighborhood without its own public school for the time being.

Winning Bidder Not Yet Clear

It was not immediately not clear who made the winning $16 million offer for the property. The federal government’s General Services Administration doesn’t formally disclose who wins its online auctions until weeks after they close.

The district — identified only as "Bidder #1" on the auction website —  bid as high as $5.8 million for the property before backing away, assistant superintendent Flip Herndon said Monday.

That was about as high as Seattle School Board members would've permitted. After district officials had an appraiser place a dollar value on the building, school board members approved a bid for “up to 10 percent over the appraisal amount.” That appraisal came in at $5.2 million, Herndon said.

Eight bidders made offers for the building, according to the auction website.

District Opted For Auction

Late last year, federal education officials had an offer on the table to transfer the building’s deed to Seattle Public Schools for practically nothing.

But the gift would’ve come with strings attached, including an aggressive timetable for turning the building into a school that would’ve forced the district to go into debt to cover an estimated $53 million in renovation costs.

Scared off by the prospect of debt, school board members declined to pursue the offer, opting to go to auction instead. The Downtown Seattle Association, which pushed hardest to have the district acquire the building, had hoped historic covenants on the property might scare away developers.

The former bank building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Though much of the office space can be freely renovated, remodeling the building's exterior, teller lobby, main entryway and the two-story bank vault requires state permission.

Growth Downtown

More than 900 students in grades K-12 live within one mile of the former Federal Reserve building, located at Second Ave. and Spring Street.

But many elementary students are bussed to Capitol Hill; many middle school students attend classes in Queen Anne; and many high school students are in Garfield High School’s attendance area.

Editor's Note: This post, originally published Saturday afternoon, was updated on Monday, Feb. 9, with additional information from Herndon.

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