Seattle Public Schools is scrambling to accommodate a growing student population, but the developmentally and physically disabled students of Northwest Center Kids on Queen Anne now seem to be at the receiving end of the crunch, having been given six months to vacate the building they've leased for the past 28 years.
Blindsided by the decision, parents say the eviction could have dire consequences.
At a school board meeting on February 5, the father of a child who has a heart condition begged the district for more time. "Other places are terrified that my child will die in their care," said Robert Marks, arguing that other schools—public or private—are not equipped to care for his child. "We have nowhere else to go."
The Northwest Center was founded in 1965 by concerned parents when public schools wouldn't take their disabled children, worried that their behavioral and physical needs were too much or too dangerous.
Now the parents are concerned the district is also taking advantage of their investments in the school building, and they present damning public records to prove it.
Last year, the Northwest Center received a $250,000 grant from NAIOP, a commercial real estate firm, to renovate their facilities, including remodeling bathrooms to accommodate physically disabled students and refurbishing the floors. The work was completed in October 2013, but two months later, the Northwest Center was given an eviction notice. Seattle Public Schools has claimed it didn't have any knowledge of the remodeling work because the proper paperwork was not filed. But e-mail and public records indicate the district had designs on the building for the better part of a year.
Northwest Center president Tom Everill e-mailed school superintendent José Banda in October 2012 to ask if their location would be used to house public-school students. Kathy Johnson, property manager for Seattle Public Schools, e-mailed five days later to confirm that "there are no plans to include North Queen Anne in the levy proposal." But in March 2013, an e-mail from Gretchen DeDecker, a project manager for the district, to Johnson and K–12 planning coordinator Joseph Wolf, indicates the district has been considering plans to take over the Queen Anne location:
To doubly confirm our discussion last week, you think we may need to take back North Queen Anne when their lease is up in 2015 (or sooner)?
NAIOP is considering the site for a huge volunteer project, and the needs are pretty compelling. One thought is if NAIOP did some major building improvements and site cleanup, it would benefit the tenant for the next few years, who really really could use the help, and likely (hopefully) be that much fewer improvements we'd need to do to use it as a school in the future.
The e-mail trail seems to present clear evidence that school officials have not only been discussing moving Northwest Center, they intended to benefit from the center's renovations to the building.
Katie Curnutte, a Northwest Center parent, is furious. "The process of decision making could have included us and did not. A clear decision had been made by September, and I'm angry that this has fallen through the cracks."
Teresa Wippel, a spokeswoman for Seattle Public Schools, insists that the district is not taking advantage of the renovations since they didn't know the renovations had happened and other schools were being considered for the move, adding that such construction projects usually trigger an evaluation of how those improvements might affect the facility.
The Northwest Center has resigned itself to moving, but they are asking the school board for a six-month reprieve to ensure the new location has adequate facilities for disabled children.