Friday, November 21, 2014

Should Laurelhurst Elementary School Get Up To Four More Portables Resulting In Permanent Lost Valuable Playground Space As Well As Potential Lasting Impact On Neighborhood?

North playground

The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) is seeking neighbors, living within 600' of Laurelhurst Elementary School to apply by December 17, to be on the School Design Departure Advisory  Committee, to help with deciding if up to four more portables in total, should be added to the North and already small South playground.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is requesting a zoning departure that, if approved, would permanently increase building lot coverage to up to 45%, significantly above the current limit of 35%, allowing the addition of up to four new portables, resulting in significant loss of playground space at the school.

The DON website says that "the intent of the departure process is to allow for the construction, addition, and/or renovation of schools that do not necessarily meet all of the land use and zoning standards of the surrounding neighborhood."

The information continues:
The land use code contains provisions whereby the Seattle School District can request exemption from the provisions of the land use code. They may request these exemptions or “departures” from many of the provisions of the code. However, the impacts of these exemptions fall disproportionately on those residents who reside or own property closest to the school.
In order to assure that the views of nearby neighbors of the school, and the surrounding community, are given weight in any City decision to allow departures from the zoning, a departure committee is formed primarily from nearby neighbors of the school. The purpose of the committee is to review the departures requested, listen to and solicit the views of their neighbors, and make a recommendation to the Director of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) concerning granting, denying, or conditioning any departures requested.

Residents living within 600' of the school should be receiving a letter from DON, in the next few days, soliciting applicants for the Departure  Advisory Committee which in part reads:
The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods is seeking interested persons from the neighborhood to serve on this committee. 
Here’s your chance to serve on an advisory committee that will recommend whether to grant zoning modifications needed to allow the addition of new portables on the Laurelhurst Elementary School Site. 
The process for considering this request involves public meetings before a Committee composed of neighborhood, School District, and City of Seattle representatives.  The Committee will receive briefings from the School District, and gather and evaluate public comment on the departure  
request for the increased lot coverage.  
Following these meetings, the Committee will forward a recommendation to the City to either grant or deny the requested waivers.  The Committee may also recommend relevant conditions to be applied to granting this change to minimize its impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.  The City will make the final decision.


The Committee will be composed of eight representatives from the following groups:

1.       A person residing within 600’ of the proposed site.

2.       A person owning property or a business within 600’ of the proposed site.

3.       Two representatives of the general neighborhood.

4.       A representative-at-large to represent city-wide education issues.

5.       Two representatives of the Laurelhurst Elementary PTSA.

6.       A representative of the Seattle School District.

If you are interested in serving on this committee, please send a letter of interest by either e-mail to or regular mail to:
Steve Sheppard
Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
700 5th Avenue Suite 1700
PO Box 94649
Seattle, WA 98124-4649

A group of concerned Laurelhurst Elementary parents calling themselves "Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning," with the motto, “Playgrounds Grow Students,” is against higher lot coverage and the addition of more portables for the following reasons, as outlined in a recent flyer distributed to residents living near the school:
·     Studies confirm that quality outdoor play space is critical for healthy learning. Open space that now serves as basketball, soccer, kickball and football play areas would be eliminated.
·     Every family in the neighborhood benefits from the school’s recently upgraded playground (funded by neighbors -­‐ not SPS), whether it’s during school, evenings or weekends.
·     Laurelhurst already has the smallest lot size of all 11 NE elementary schools, in addition to the highest building:lot ratio.
·     More portables do not guarantee smaller class sizes.
·     Portables are inferior to permanent classrooms due to their isolation from the school community (safety concerns, less collaboration, less access to facilities), lack of natural light and HVAC issues.
"Please join us in advocating for vital play space for all our kids by opposing the Departure for higher lot coverage at Laurelhurst Elementary. Our kids deserve better," the flyer says.
Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning told the Blog staff:

Our primary concern is to protect our already limited play area. Science confirms that children need ample outdoor space to play in order to grow and learn. Laurelhurst school can accommodate the children in its boundaries without adding portables. We are asking the Seattle Public School District to solve its growth issues without taking critical playground away from our kids and community.
The Laurelhurst Community Club (LCC) also weighed in on this very important issue, which would have lasting impacts on the neighborhood, strongly urging neighbors within 600 feet to apply and be part of the oversight committee.
LCC added:
Our  preliminary discussions of the proposal includes why the issue of adding portables matters to our city schools:
1. Portables have a way of becoming permanent structures-note the long length of the current ones at Laurelhurst. The district must find a permanent solution under the edict from the State Legislature. Taking away existing needed playground space was never the intent of city codes, nor the Seattle School District. 
2. Traffic impacts must be considered-access from the very congested NE 45th St, local neighborhood parking for extra staff (there is no parking lot). Safety for all children must be a priority, and enough space for safe bus drop offs. 
3.Is there adequate Laser Space to support longer day care? If not , or if so how is that impacted? 
4. Loss of recreational space for existing children cannot be minimized or dismissed. Healthy bodies and healthy minds are linked. Obesity rates are climbing, and kids need more movement. Playground social skills are also a place where academic rankings are set aside for good fun, and away from electronics. 
5. The City had building and zoning codes for a reason, and any variance must be granted only if due process is followed to the letter of the law.

The PTA at Laurelhurst Elementary School sent out a letter to all school families several weeks ago giving " an update" on the portables saying in part:
Many of you may be aware of the new portable that appeared briefly on our north playground this Summer and you may have heard about a “departure” process anticipated this year to address the city lot coverage codes that current and future portables surpass.  
We have been actively seeking out answers on this process from both the City of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools (SPS), and want to give you an update on what we know and next steps.SPS submitted an application to the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning (DPD), requesting a departure from current lot coverage codes, as specified under Municipal Code 23.51B.  
We do know that existing portables already put us over the maximum allowed lot coverage of 35%. We have been told that the district plans to submit a request to maintain the existing portables, plus gain approval to add up to 4 more portables in the future.



Seattle Public Schools has released designs drawn up October 19, by Harthorne Hagen Architects, of two options for the placement of the portables.
First option:
  • 2 double portables on the North playground - 28 x 64' foot taking up 1,792 square feet.
  • One right along the north fence that runs along NE 47th Street
  • The other just to the north of the current second grade portable along 47th Avenue NE.
  • No portables on the south playground.
  • The design shows the kickball area moved just next to the NE 47th Street portable and 2 four square courts moved alongside this area.
  • These portables would eliminate a popular, heavily used large play area where currently a large number of students play organized games of  kickball, fliers, soccer and foursquare, as well as just general play by various students.
The second option:
  • 2 single portables on the North playground - 28x32' portables, each immediately to the north of the existing LASER portables, occupying 896 square feet each
  • 1  double portable on the south playground - 28 x 64 ', occupying 1,792 square feet, along  the west fence bordering 46th Avenue NE and NE 45th Street.
  • This south playground portable would take up the entire narrower southwest part of the playground, eliminating both heavily used basketball court and several four square courts.
  • Thee design shows the new location for 3 - four square courts and 2 basketball courts in the southeast corner of the playground along NE 45th Street and 47th Avenue NE, currently where large number of kids play kickball and soccer.
  • This proposal eliminates the area where a large number of children play "Fliers," soccer, kickball, foursquare  and soccer and have generally play.
The Laurelhurst Blog Staff has received many emails from concerned neighbors living close to the school and in the general neighborhood detailing their concerns, some in part listed here:
  • changes feel of residential neighborhood
  • changes tone of neighborhood  with that type of density and  structure - metals shells with aluminum ramps  and windowless shacks
  • gives residential, cozy neighborhood an industrial feel
  • devalues neighborhood
  • significant loss of valuable open space
  • highly negative visual impact for neighbors living in close proximity to the school ,as well as, current and future students and general neighborhood having to look at the ugly structures
  • loss of open space not only for students, but for community as a whole who use the playground seven days a week
  • potential for prospective families to not choose the neighborhood to live in lowering school enrollment and ultimately school funding, as well as property values

Here are one residents comments about the draft proposal:

lt obviously  shows that the architects and SPS have no idea how the children use the playgrounds. Have they even visited the school during recess to see specifically what games are played in what are and what areas children use for free play? The proposal seems to map out for the kids how the playground is to be used and what SPS believes is important to retain. It makes no sense how the  were put together other than to give SPS exactly what they need and want with absolutely no input from the School body, general community or nearby neighbors.
Furthermore, they have not observed playground usage when both playgrounds are regularly used by the general community, neighborhood churches and other neighborhood groups.

Once DON has selected the  Committee members, the ensuing process will take about 30-90 days, following these steps as outlined on the DON website:

Orientation Meeting and first Public Meeting
  • Occurs once Committee is formed and appointed by the Director
  • DON to review overall process with the departure advisory committee
  • DON to provide overview of the role and responsibilities
 Public Meeting
  • At the first meeting the Seattle School District, with the architectural firm, presents the building design and improvements, the departures requested, and any rationale for the departures. After the presentation, the school departure committee must make a formal determination: 1) that the departures are minor, or 2) major.
  • If the committee decides that the requested departures are major in nature, then two additional public meetings must be scheduled over the succeeding 90 days in order to solicit additional public testimony, and to obtain additional information from the Seattle School District to help inform the committee’s recommendations.
  • If the departures are considered minor, then the committee may proceed directly to a discussion and vote to grant the request with or without conditions. Any conditions recommended must be directly related to any impacts of the departure request.
  • The DON staff will then write, on behalf of the committee, a draft report for review and approval by committee members.
  • A second meeting may be called for review and approval of the draft report, or the report may be electronically transmitted for approval.
  • If there is not a consensus, committee members not in agreement may write a minority report that becomes part of the committee report to DPD.
  • Before the committee makes its recommendations, the public is encouraged to testify concerning their general opinions on the departures and any conditions that might be reasonably put on granting the departures.

Decision on Departures

The committee report and recommendations are forwarded to the Director of the Department of Planning and Development, who has the sole responsibility for granting the departures as recommended by the school departure committee with or without conditions. The Director’s decision is appealable to the Seattle Hearing Examiner. 
The PTA said, in their aforementioned letter, that the first committee meeting would be four  weeks after the committee is finalized in late December or early January.
For more information about the "Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning," contact Christi Nagle at or call 529-­‐9296.

For information on the Departure process contact Steve Sheppard, with the Department of Neighborhoods, at or go here.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read the blog, which also had some information about Villa Academy.
VA is a large place, close to Laurelhurst Elementary.
So, just thinking outside of the box, I wondered if it would be possible to rent space a Villa for some classrooms -OR- wouldn't it be nice if Laurelhurst Elem School could move out of the building for a year for remodeling and to construct a 2 story addition. Using portables is terrible inefficient use of land, and should not be allowed at the expense of playground space for an indefinite period of time.