Community Post

Time Running Out for Classic Madrona Houses

The Epiphany School in Madrona is scheduled to begin its big expansion on June 15th, adding 30,000 square feet of classrooms, administrative offices, and underground parking to their campus along Denny Way. But before construction can begin, four charming old homes will have to be cleared from the property.

As reported by the Madrona News back in February, the school has been trying to avoid demolition by selling the houses to people who can have them moved to another location. And they had some initial success on that too, with potential buyers lined up on three of the homes (the fourth at 1806 36th can’t be moved due to structural issues). But last week the buyers got some bad news in the form of updated estimates from utility companies for what it would cost to get the homes through the maze of wires that run along the route between their current location and their potential new lots. The new estimates have pushed the overall costs to a level that may make the moves economically unfeasible for at least two of the potential buyers. 

According to Jeff McCord of Nickels Brothers House Moving, who is in charge of planning and executing the moves, the current properties are surrounded by an unusually large number of trolley bus wires, delicate fiber-optic communication wires, electrical, and phone cables. The owners of that infrastructure have to recoup the costs for the crews and materials necessary to unhook each wire before the move and then put them all back in place afterwards. That has pushed the cost of moving a single house up to around $200,000, vs. the typical cost of $120,000.

Alan Serebrin lives a few blocks away from the school and has been negotiating for months to buy the house on the corner of 36th & E. Denny Way. He makes his living fixing up old houses and reselling them, and wants to have the house moved to a lot he owns in Madison Valley. But the new numbers have blown a hole in his budget, and he’s trying to get the school to do more to help close the deal and avoid having to tear the homes down. 

According to Matt Neely, Head of School at Epiphany, the school is already doing as much as it can to build the project in a green way, including giving away the houses for free and earmarking tens of thousands of dollars in their construction budget to help move them to new locations. And while it’s understandable that interested buyers would like to have a larger financial contribution from the school towards the move, the school is reluctant to enter into an agreement that would essentially transfer school funds to private home developers.

Time is running out for all the parties to reach an agreement that would save the houses from the wrecking ball. It takes weeks of lead time to notify and schedule utilities for a house move. The June 15th construction start date is very firm due to the school’s yearly schedule, leaving only a short window of time at the beginning of this month to get everything in order.

If deals can’t be reached on some of the homes, Mr. Neely says that they’ll still try and salvage as much of the interior of the structures as possible, diverting at least some of the materials from the landfill. 

It sounds like everyone agrees the best possible outcome would be to keep the houses intact and relocate them to new lots. Hopefully they’ll find a way to make it work financially.

0 thoughts on “Time Running Out for Classic Madrona Houses

  1. Thank you so much, Scott, for this story. I have often walked by those houses and wondered what was happening with them, hoping they could be rescued. I too hope that the buyers, school, and infrastructure owners will be able to find a solution. It seems like a natural kind of project for a foundation promoting green solutions in cities. The school might the natural applicant, as a nonprofit itself. Or even some kind of Federal support, given the current Administration’s value of green alternatives? Good luck to all involved. It sounds like everyone is trying to do the right thing.

  2. All that private money going to a private school (promoting diversity at $16,000/year). This helps keep a certain demographic of child and local kids from our Central District public schools with parallel outcomes such as diminishing quality and parental involvement in our neighborhood schools.

    Now they need to ‘expand’ while we close a nearby public school.

    Some “community”.

    At least we can assure ourselves we’re “green”.

  3. What does being a private school have to do with this? The school is being responsible members of our community by deciding to build green. What would you prefer?

    As for diminished parental involvement in our community schools, I think we can blame the Principal at Madrona K-8 and for that. She came into the school with a committed and growing base of parents willing to give time and money to the school and community. Between the District permitting 32 students into one class, the Principal’s poor interpersonal skills, and the No Child Left Behind act, many families responded in their child’s best interest and chose to leave the school. (To put this in context McGilvra only has 21 children per class and they pay the District to keep the class size that small).

    Years ago neighborhood parents banded together to try to make a difference at their child’s school and were met with closed arms. Is this Epiphany’s…. or any other private school’s fault? I don’t think so.

    P.S. All of the independent school’s offer financial aide for children who can not afford the tuition.

  4. True the independent schools offer financial aid, but they have nowhere near enough FA available to get all the qualified applicants in their doors. They’re great schools most of them, and they can be life changing, but it’s a drop in the bucket. What if we closed all of them and then had way more fabulous teachers in public schools. Those schools would be better. Class sizes would be smaller. Kids would find them more interesting so drop out rates would be lower. Everyone would benefit.

  5. The reality is that the private schools in the area don’t have enough space….regardless of whether financial aide is part of the equation. I know of several families that are able to pay full tuition and their child got waitlisted at every school.

    If you closed all the private schools, you would still have significant inequity. McGilvra and Stevens will have small class sizes, recess, and “extras” that help make school fun… a PTA that will go to bat for the students. Madrona would be grinding away trying to get test scores up, no recess, a cop on staff….and keeping parents out of the classroom. (I’m appalled that some of the schools have no morning recess for 6 and 7 year old children). Until the District makes all of the Principals play by the same rules and expectations it isn’t going to work. Families who don’t get a spot in one of the “good” schools will opt to home school.

  6. The power companies should donate some of ther time.How much do they think they are worth for their men and trucks!Seems like they are gouging someone to lift or let the wires down.You would think they could work all month for that kind of money.

  7. “The power company” plays a very small role in this, and is required by city charter to charge time and materials (That’s how they keep the rates low). While you might possibly find some line WORKERS (they’re not all men, you know) to donate their time and skills to something worthwhile, the equipment belongs to the city, and as such needs to be accountable to all the rate payers.

    The biggest challenge will be the Metro trolley lines, which run along 34th, Denny, and Madonna Drive, and effectively hem the houses in. They are not designed to be taken down and put back up, and that sort of work can not be done quickly or easily – and Metro doesn’t have the money to write off a bunch of labor to save private homes for private use.

    I’d love to see these houses saved, but economic realities are economic realities – especially these days.

  8. Today, we just received a letter from The Seattle School District stating that last year Madrona School did not meet the national standards for ‘No Child Left Behind’. MMMMMMM….Very disconcerting considering our daughter is assigned to attend there for 2009 – K. Not that we can afford it by any means, but we’re scrambling for a private school at any cost. It’s a very sad commentary from all perspectives…personally and socially. I think the principal must be held accountable. If she wants to discourage parent involvement and funding, then great. However, let’s see results. If she can not raise the standard to the lowest bar of ‘No Child Left Behind’ then it’s clearly time for her to leave, yesterday.

  9. how did the Madrona administration get away with this? They basically started their own option school with their own charter to fulfill their objectives and turned their back on serving the local kids. By rejecting the wishes (and money) of the parents in its own reference area, and by creating a curriculum and goals that are not appropriate for the kids in the reference area, they succeeding in attracting students interested in their plan and draw less than 20% of the public-school-enrolled kids in madrona. Madrona’s administration have now requested of the school board that it officially become an option school. As a parent in Madrona I am disappointed that they were able to pursue this alternative objective, which is now confirmed by their recent request. The school board should either turn it into an option school and reassign madrona neighborhood kids to schools that are not so miserably underperforming; or, rout the current admin and give the school back to the neighborhood. either one – do it soon.