July 16, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 29

News

Seattle Public Schools make a bid for surplus federal bank after homeless services center denied

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

Photo by Jon Williams / Arts Editor

Photo by Jon Williams / Arts Editor

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Seattle Public Schools has applied for the right to acquire a 60-year-old former bank that has been surplused by the federal government.

The school district submitted an application July 3 to the Department of Education with a plan to spend $50 million to renovate the former Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, a six-story building at 1015 Second Ave., and turn it into a K-5 school for up to 600 students.

Currently, 437 elementary school-age students live within a mile of the Federal Reserve Bank, and a total of 1,026 within a mile and a half, yet there has been no school downtown in 65 years, according to school district officials.

The federal McKinney-Vento Act requires that organizations that provide services to homeless people get the first shot at acquiring surplus federal property. The General Services Adminstration (GSA) and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) on June 2 rejected an application to turn the building into a service center for homeless people.

Now, the Department of Education will vet Seattle Public Schools’ application and determine if the building could serve as a school and if Seattle Public Schools can come up with the money to renovate it.

“We currently don’t have that kind of money on hand, and we’re not going to redirect money from our current projects,” said Flip Herndon, assistant superintendent for capital, facilities and enrollment planning at Seattle Public Schools.

HHS cited inadequate funding for the estimated $17.5 million in renovation costs when it rejected the proposal to turn the building into a service center for homeless people.

The six-story building with a vault spanning two floors has been vacant since 2008, when the bank moved its operations to Renton. The building has 90,000 square feet of usable space.

Federal law requires the GSA — which owns the building — to offer the property to public entities and nonprofits at no cost before it goes up for auction to a private buyer.

Advocates for homeless people are still pressing for the building to be used as a service center.

Tristia Bauman, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, wrote a letter in June arguing the GSA did not give HHS enough time to fully review the application, which was put forth by Compass Housing Alliance and Seattle-King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH).

Those supporting the shelter proposal asked for more time to clarify their funding proposal, but the GSA said it wouldn’t have helped.

“We did not get any indication after the conversation with Health & Human Services that any new information would change Health & Human Services’ ruling on the application,” said Stephanie Kenitzer, a spokesperson for the GSA.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, also wrote a letter to the GSA asking the agency to give Compass Housing and SKCCH more time to clarify the financing portion of the application.

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