Seattle Public Schools is in discussions with the City of Seattle about the potential to use surplus property at the southern end of the decommissioned Battery Street Tunnel for a new K-8 school.
Seattle Public Schools is in discussions with the City of Seattle about the potential to use surplus property at the southern end of the decommissioned Battery Street Tunnel for a new K-8 school.

Emily and Michael George started Parents for a Better Downtown Seattle seven years ago with the goal of filling the need for a public school in the neighborhood. There were sites that had been considered before, but the recent closure of the Battery Street Tunnel has provided a real opportunity that Seattle Public Schools is actively pursuing with the City of Seattle.

“I think it kind of came organically, from recognition on the part of folks at the city that once the Battery Street Tunnel gets filled, there will be a new parcel available,” said SPS chief operations officer Fred Podesta. “We’re all entering a new world where there’s a lot more residential growth downtown.”

The Battery Street Tunnel was closed in conjunction with the opening of the long-awaited State Route 99 Tunnel. The tunnel is currently being filled with rubble from the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which is being demolished by WSDOT, making way for improvements to the Seattle Waterfront, and a redesigned Alaskan Way, between King and Bell streets.

At the south end of the Battery Street Tunnel is a corner property — Battery Street and Western Avenue — that is currently being used as a construction staging area in Belltown. The district and city are talking about the potential for a K-8 school there that could also accommodate a park on top, Podesta said.

“Honestly, there are few public properties that would fit the bill for a public school like this does,” said Michael George, who is also a senior project manager at Kidder Mathews focused on public transportation and affordable housing and Seattle City Council District 7 candidate.

Seattle Public Schools is facing capacity pressures in schools in the city’s Central Area and north of downtown, Podesta said, so it makes sense to plan ahead for not only a K-8 school, but also a new high school in the next 5-10 years. Children living on the south end of downtown are going to Lowell Elementary, George said, and those on the north end to John Hay, and then there are other option schools.

A downtown school would allow families living in the neighborhood to stay there, which would relieve housing pressures in other parts of the city, George said, adding many other organizations have been active in advocating for a new facility.

Podesta said he expects to know by the end of the year if SPS should pursue the project, and right now the district is working with the city to determine if there will be a cost for acquiring the property or the potential for a long-term lease.

“We work together in partnership, and they’re a huge supporter of the district,” he said of the City of Seattle, “and they’re trying to help out the residents, who say they want to live down there but they don’t have all the amenities they need.”

Such a school would likely be several stories, Podesta said, and provide unique challenges, such as transportation to and from campus. It’s possible many students would walk, he said, while George notes the site has good access by way of public transit.

The school would also have a boundary that would include a mixed-income student population, George said.

Improving the partnership between the City of Seattle and SPS is one of the top reasons for wanting to serve on the city council, he said.

“In general, we need to do a better job with education in this city,” he said, “and it’s not just this, it’s early education and daycare.”

The council candidate said it’s time that downtown be treated as a neighborhood, and that means providing those residents with an elementary school.

Voters just approved operations and capital levies for Seattle Public Schools, which replaces those approved in 2013. It will take another capital levy to fund a new school downtown, meaning voters could be asked to approve the project in 2025.

“If there is demand there, I think the voters could be interested,” Podesta said, “but we have to make a good case for it.”

Calls and emails to the mayor’s office for comment on the potential for a new school downtown went unreturned.