Can Downtown Seattle Attract Families? The big question behind the new school debate.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to set up a public elementary school downtown. It gives the school district the right to build on the old entrance to the Battery Street tunnel.

This decision is not final, but it has sparked much discussion about the future of downtown.

Over 5,000 children live in downtown Seattle. But you don’t see many of them on the streets of Belltown, Seattle’s densest neighborhood.

Makai Wright lives in Belltown. He doesn’t see it as a place to raise a family.

“If I had a bigger apartment, then yes,” he says. “Right now I’m kind of in… a lot of these apartments and things are studios, one bedroom. That’s probably another reason you don’t see a lot of families here. I grew up in a house. , and many other families have done it.

When the kids reach school age here, a lot of families move out.

The downtown Seattle association has been pushing for an elementary school in the area for 10 years, hoping to keep families around. But a school has not been built, in part because the vacant land is so expensive and the competition fierce.

So when the city signed an agreement last week giving the school district the first accesses to the old Battery Street tunnel entrance site in Belltown, it was a big deal, according to Marshall Foster, chief of the office of Seattle from Waterfront and Civic Projects.

“Being able to go out and in the marketplace secure a site like this for an elementary school in our downtown area is almost impossible,” he says. “And because we have cleared the ground with the removal of the viaduct, we can do something remarkable here, which is to give them the opportunity.

One person who comments a lot about the advisability of building a school here is Tom Graff. He is part of a community group called Belltown United. They are fighting against the school. Rather, they want the land to become a park.

Expand icon

It is not difficult to visualize. After the tunnel was filled with rubble from the viaduct, the workers covered it with earth and planted green grass on it.

“And that would be an amazing open space for the people of Belltown – but also the people who go to the market, to the Seattle Center – and the view of the waterfront,” Graff says. “And this is once in a … it will never happen again, that’s my point. And we didn’t want to give it up.

Graff shows the site to a few candidates for the school board. He wants to convince them to speak out against the creation of a school here. He argues that this neighborhood is lacking children in part because the apartments are too small.

“I want children in these buildings, and I hope that someday it will happen, but we have to meet the needs here now,” he told them.

School board candidate Vivian Song Maritz is skeptical of the argument that families cannot live in small apartments.

“My family – we used to live in Tokyo, we were a family of six, so we lived in a 1,600 square foot apartment. So we understand what dense life is. “

But she wonders if all the apartments built here will be studios and two rooms.

“Because you could build this school, but if there’s no intention of building PMQ around it, then it’s not a game. “


Caption: A chain link fence surrounds a potential downtown elementary school site in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood.

Expand icon

Candidate Michelle Sarju asks why we would build a shiny new school when the old schools, especially in South Seattle, are in desperate need of it.

“We have so many other needs in our city, in terms of solving overcrowded classrooms, upgrading buildings in very poor condition,” she says.

But there is also a fairness argument for a downtown school. Many downtown children do not have a home. And the Downtown Seattle Association says this school would have a lot of kids on the free lunch program.

Marshall Foster of the city of Seattle says putting a school downtown has always been a chicken-and-egg problem. How to have a school when you don’t have a family. How to have families when you don’t have a school.

He says this is an issue the district has never had time to thoroughly examine before, as it has never had a real gunshot on land like this.


Caption: Potential downtown school site in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood

Expand icon

“I can tell you that as a town planner and someone who has worked on our downtown for a long time, look at any prosperous and prosperous downtown, you will find an elementary school, you will find an investment in the children. . And families are at the heart of it, ”says Foster.

Even if the land became a school, it would include space for a park, Foster says. But that wouldn’t be the ground floor park covering most of a full city block that Belltown United is asking for.

Foster says the deal that would allow the school district to use that land is complicated. The school district should find a way to pay for this, which could include listing the item on a future school tax. *

And then there’s the question of whether the school district even wants to put a school here. A spokesperson has so far said he is only committed to doing a thorough analysis of the matter.

It must determine, by examining demographic trends, whether children will be an integral part of the future of downtown Seattle.

[*Correction: an earlier version of this story implied the school would appear on the 2022 levy. In fact, it will not appear on that levy, the City of Seattle’s Marshall Foster clarified. The school district has up to 10 years to decide on how to fund the school.]

Comments or tips? You can contact reporter Joshua McNichols at [email protected]