According to a report in this morning's Seattle Times, the school district is including a $32 million "placeholder" in the next capital levy for constructing a new 500-seat elementary school in the South Lake Union neighborhood, what would be the first downtown public school in decades. That's reportedly enough money to build the school, but not enough to acquire the land.
It's a proposal that's sparking an interesting debate. On the one hand:
"It's a priority for us to look at as we try to make downtown family- and kid-friendly," said Randy Hurlow, a spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association. ... The downtown corridor is targeted for about half of Seattle's growth in the next few years, said Gary Johnson, a city planner who for years has pushed for a downtown school.
On the other hand:
Some parents are critical, believing the push for a downtown school is motivated by pressure from business and distracts from more pressing district issues, including deteriorating buildings and overcrowding. ... Melissa Westbrook, a local education blogger, said at a public meeting last week she thinks downtown-school efforts have been driven by businessmen such as Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and chairman of Vulcan.
My own take is that of course we need a downtown elementary school, especially during this era of overcrowding. Seattle has a remarkably family-unfriendly downtown, and as much as the Lesser Seattle advocates might resist the urge to fulfill the Denny Party's aspirations in originally naming their settlement "New York Alki," if we want to achieve the kind of urban densities that make a downtown work, we need to serve families with children.
But, yeah, the South Lake Union developers will profit handsomely from a spanking new elementary school in the neighborhood, so I say let the developers pay for it. The land is a given: private individuals and corporations donating land for use by public schools is an American tradition. But Bezos and Allen and the other developers who will surely profit from having a new school in the vicinity should also cough up much if not all of the cost of construction.
After all, local governments are constantly providing tax breaks and other incentives to attract new businesses, so it only seems fair that businesses in turn provide some incentives to attract valuable public services.