The Seattle School District, about to close the doors of a handful of schools has realized that now may be a good time to get in on the real estate action, before it's too late.
Evelyn Tapsak drives past the old Magnolia Elementary nearly every day, and what she sees confounds her — a big brick school building on the crest of a hill with a view of Puget Sound, sitting vacant as it has for most of the time since the Seattle School District closed it in 1984.Gee, let me think... rent out property at 50% of (already relatively low) market rate, or sell it and pocket hojillions of dollars... tough choice. Seriously though, It seems that we've got yet another counter-example to the "they aren't making any more land" argument. Closed schools is just one possible way that more land for homes can come onto the market.
"How can the district be in such debt and let that property just sit there and not do anything with it?" the longtime Magnolia resident asks. "It's amazing to me. It doesn't make sense."
District officials, facing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall, are beginning to ask similar questions. As the School Board prepares to close schools — adding to the district's inventory of surplus buildings — officials are taking the opportunity to re-examine their real-estate holdings and look for ways to make more money in a booming market. Even selling property — something the district has rarely done — is on the table.
Community centers in Phinney Ridge and the University District are among a handful of short-term tenants that pay a discounted rent of 50 percent fair-market value because the district attaches value to the youth and family services they offer.
West Seattle parent Kris Aamot thinks the district should stop subsidizing the rents of those tenants and instead should maximize revenues from those properties to fix existing schools, such as elementary schools in his section of town where students are being taught in portable classrooms.
Not every property is tailor-made for a community use, however. The former Oak Lake Elementary on Aurora Avenue North, for example, became the Oak Tree shopping center after the district leased the land on a long-term basis to a developer.
"That was logical," Roe said. "Businesses on Aurora were growing up all around that school."
There may not be logic, however, in keeping Magnolia Elementary what it is now — an almost-always-empty building that the district pulls into service only for emergencies to temporarily house a school. The board could decide to lease the building, or even sell it.
In another part of Magnolia, the district sold the former Briarcliff Elementary in 2003 to a developer building a subdivision of tightly packed houses. Neighbors often complain about the housing, calling it a poor fit with its surroundings.
(Stuart Eskenazi, Seattle Times, 07.03.2006)