Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Laurelhurst Elementary School Students Initiate Petition In Support Of Keeping Playground Free Of Additional Portables



Two students, Stella and Skylar and  at Laurelhurst Elementary School, have initiated a petition for students fand children in the neighborhood to sign, in support of no additional portables on the North and South playgrounds. 

The Department of Neighborhoods (DON) is currently reviewing the applicants to be on the City's School Design Departure Advisory  Committee, to help with deciding if up to four more portables in total, should be added to the two and already small South playgrounds.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has requested 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.

One of the student's moms, circulating the petition, told the Laurelhurst Blog Staff that the students "have really taken an active leadership role among their peers and are excited to be involved in this issue."

She added: 
Most kids are concerned about possible portables, they say they want their play-space, and worry about where they will play.  The students see the kids playing fliers and other games every day on the spaces that have been proposed for portables.   
My daughter thinks it’s important for kids to have plenty of room for fun and exercise so they can focus better in the classroom.  The playground already feels small for the number of kids using it.  
The girls have seen petitions before at Target and the grocery store and thought it was a pretty powerful way tell the school what the kids want and need.

The students, along with a group of friends will be standing on the corners outside the school grounds before and after school (at the intersections near the school at NE 45th Street and 47th Avenue NE and NE 47th Street and 47th Avenue NE) before and after school explaining the situation, showing the proposed diagram of portables placements, and having the petition available.

The students put together information which they are also showing to the kids on their clipboard which says:
We are LEAPS (Laurelhurst Elementary for Active Playground). We are information you that Seattle Public Schools is planning to put four portables in the places that you love to play in! The space is going down to 45%. This is very bad and we are trying to STOP it.We are asking for your help to do your part. 
Did you know that:
Studies say that if you reduce the area of playground space then it will cause more injuries because you have less space to play and you do not want to come home with a hurt knee. Every day kids use the space to play and be healthy, plus you don't want big ugly portables in front of our beautiful school! 
Laurelhurst already has the smallest square feet in all 11 NE elementary schools. 
We are for active playing, please do your part in saving our playgrounds.


In addition, a group of concerned Laurelhurst Elementary parents calling themselves "Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning," with the motto, “Playgrounds Grow Students,” and "Our kids deserve better" is circulating an on-line petition open to the public to sign.
The group is against higher lot coverage and the addition of more portables stating that:
  • 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.
  • Families in the neighborhood benefit 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.
Parents for Playgrounds and Proper Planning told the Blog staff:
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 commented that "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."

They added that:
Traffic impacts must be considered-access from the very congested NE 45th St, local neighborhood parking for extra staff (there is no parking lot).  
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. 
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 .

Seattle Public Schools released designs drawn up 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 commenting that the additional portables:
  • 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
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. 
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.
For more detailed information about the issue go here.  And go here for information about the portable that was delivered in August then removed.
And here is a KING 5 news report on the issue.
(Photo: KING 5 News)

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