Seattle looks toward first downtown school in decades

Seattle looks toward first downtown school in decades

SEATTLE -- Homeless advocates hoped to convert a vacant bank building into a shelter and services hub, but the federal government turned them down. Now the Seattle School District is trying to put elementary classrooms at the site, potentially making it the first downtown campus in decades.

Schools have come and gone over the years around the city's downtown core. Now there could be a new campus making a home amid the surrounding skyscrapers.

"There is a projected future need for downtown," said Richard Best, the director of capital projects and planning for Seattle Public Schools.

District officials said about 1,000 children live within a mile of the bank site, and the now-vacant Federal Reserve Bank could be converted to elementary grade classrooms for 700 of them -- after renovations.

"We're estimating it would be $53 million, in today's dollars. An elementary school costs in the neighborhood of $41 million to $43 million."

The six-story building was originally sought by homeless advocates, who hoped to convert it into a downtown shelter and comprehensive service center. Advocates cited the McKinney-Vento Act, which gives homeless groups first dibs on vacated federal properties. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rejected the bid, saying the funding just wasn't there.

"In this case, there was a very solid plan put together suggesting that there would be funding from a range of different sources, but it wasn't all money in the bank," said Jeremy Rosen, an attorney with the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty in Washington, D.C.

Rosen said if homeless groups still want to pursue the building, they may have no recourse except to sue the federal government.

School district officials said they waited until that rejection to submit their own application, not wanting to turn this into an "us versus them" battle.

"We did not want to have that, where it looked like kids were being pitted against the homeless," Best said.

Homeless groups repeated that claim, saying neither group is in conflict with the other.