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Originally published Monday, January 26, 2015 at 4:51 PM

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Editorial: Turning Federal Reserve building into a school is fitting for Seattle’s urban core

Seattle schools and the city itself should work to add a vital neighborhood asset to the downtown core: kids.


Seattle Times Editorial

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TWO undeniable trends in downtown Seattle should embolden Seattle Public Schools’ movement to open a school in the downtown core.

The first is the trend of families seeking an urban lifestyle. Since 2010, the number of children living downtown has spiked 17 percent, a rate significantly higher than the rest of the city. There are now 2,690 downtown residents under the age of 18 and downtown residents age 5 to 9 years old were the fastest-growing demographic in the city center, according to the Downtown Seattle Association.

And the cost of land downtown appears to be on an unfaltering rise, fueled in part by Amazon.com’s astonishing expansion in South Lake Union. Downtown Seattle condo sales prices last year eclipsed the previous pre-recession peak — the only neighborhood to reach that high watermark. Two-bedroom or larger condos are increasingly common.

With increasing demand and declining availability, the Seattle School Board is moving to snatch up the former Federal Reserve building at Second Avenue and Spring Street.

An auction, set to close this week, for the six-story, 90,000 square-foot bunker of a building sets the minimum price at $1 million. If there are no competing bids — and let’s hope not — the district is set to get a steal for downtown property.

It is true the school district could have gotten that building for free last year. But the strings attached — requiring renovation of a school within three years — were rightly deemed by the School Board as too onerous.

The auction offers more flexibility, which is important for a district dealing with critical capacity problems elsewhere in the city. If the stars align, a downtown school could be tucked into a capital construction levy next year.

The district already has $5 million set aside from a previous capital levy. Remodeling the building, which has historic preservation restrictions, is estimated to cost more than $50 million, slightly higher than a newly built school elsewhere in the district.

But Seattle is playing catchup here. Like-minded cities, including Denver and Minneapolis, have opened downtown schools to accommodate the residential movement back into the urban core. Seattle, with aspirations to be an urban-planning leader, should not be left behind.

But opening a downtown school is also an implicit contract that Seattle will do better to make its core safe and accommodating for families. That means more vigorous attention to obvious disorder and open-air drug markets, as well as downtown playspace for children.

The movement of families back downtown is a sign of urban health. Seattle schools, and its partners with the city, should act quickly to add a vital neighborhood asset to the city core: kids.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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