Update: It will either air tonight at 11:00 PM news story or tomorrow on the 5:00 PM news.
KING-5 will air a story tomorrow (March 10) on the sale of the MLK, Jr. building to First AME Church on their 5 p.m. TV news.
The profile of this deal has been raised due to the current financial scandal in the Seattle School District and Fred Stephens’ close association with that, the sale of the school as head of District facilities at the time, along with his close association with the AME Church. Conflicts of interest seem likely and there are those who would like it to be reexamined and revisited.
Remember the Board voted on this and cannot plead total ignorance of some the issues here. They were raised during the bidding process.
A related article that outlined Fred Stephens relationships with AME Church appeared in the Seattle Weekly earlier:
Update: http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/ also has a post on this with a comment by Michael DeBell.
I was wondering if this was going to be investigated. Deal didn’t seem to make sense.
Agreed. Did not make sense. The perceived conflict of interest w/ Fred Stephens as a district employee and First AME member was raised repeatedly- and I don’t believe taken seriously by the board of district legal. I hope for a thorough investigation- including of the funding sources AME secured to purchase the property in the fist place.
FAME has the keys to the building now, don’t know if it can be taken back. They got funding from the State Dept. of Commerce, same place the community group was going to get it, only Bush was not using public money in their bid. The deal was dirty from the start with all the former and current AME members relationships with the district.
It was a nice parting gift from Stephens to his Church before he went to DC, a 2.4 million gift.
They should have just taken the highest bid and been done with it.
I agree – hopefully they can revisit this decision and allow Bush to use their non-tax payer dollars to purchase the property and upkeep it.
1. It doesn’t have to be sold. Leasing maybe a possibility. Lease it to the community group. See how that plays out over many years, as the District has done in all other communities.
2. Don’t sell schools.
A friend and coworker was involved in the other community group trying to get the school. They had a solid proposal, tenants lined up, and NO RELIGIOUS CONNECTIONS. I agree though, Joanna, the District should have approached it as a lease, not a sale. I am wondering if the disrepair (again, a problem caused by the District itself) played in to their decision to sell rather than lease? They would have been responsible for bringing it up to code, etc. if they leased it out. Interesting development, to say the least. The deal seemed underhanded then and that rings true today.
I’m not sure what you mean by disrepair. The yard may not be pretty, the windows boarded (protected), interior might want paint, need a good dusting, cleaning and new decor. But, none of these buildings are in true disrepair. All have good and fairly new roofs, good solid windows, nice wood trim, and are retro fitted for earthquakes. If you look at the history of buildings in the District. This one was disposed of in record speed. Others have taken longer to lease and then later reopened as a school. In a few cases buildings were sold a in decade or more. Generally they took a long time to actually sell a building that resembled something that could be a school. There aren’t that many lots in a city that will be available or appropriate for schools. Therefore, it is important to retain the ones we have. They are public assets and community assets that taxpayers have invested in since the beginning of schools here. Selling them represents a one time payment to the District, but the asset is gone for ever.
The main piece of new information here beyond what had been in the news recently is that a community group is requesting that the auditor take a look at the process followed to sell the school as a part of the ongoing investigation of the Seattle School District.
This seemed like a major boondoggle from the get go: Sell a building/SPS asset to the lowest bidder that no one really wants in the community anyway? Wow.
Joanna, you are right. It looks like it needs cosmetic work, but nothing insurmountable. It’s just not that old of a building and only a single story, right?
And you are doubly right about not selling an SPS asset. They will NEVER be able to get that back.
Something’s fishy here….
however, there is asbestos and possibly lead paint that will be expensive to remove appropriately. That was a big cost factor in bringing the building to current code/standards.
The T. T, Minor deal should be looked at next.
At least T.T. Minor wasn’t SOLD.
As Jean mentioned, there were asbestos issues which are expensive to deal with. Not saying it was insurmountable, but considering the lack of interest the District has shown in upkeep to buildings, I am not surprised if they did not want to make the investment (ie: Meany, which is still in poor shape according to the NOVA students, and the old NOVA building they had to vacate).
I agree, a building doesn’t need to be state of the art and brand new to be a vibrant and successful school, but it does need to meet code requirements, which are stricter than ever.
Yes, the process used to determine which schools were closed and which ones weren’t was very questionable. TT Minor is at the heart of where a majority of the children for that area live and is the closest school for at least 400 public school children, probably the highest natural population of students in the area. However, as long as a good portion of those children continue to be assigned to Stevens where families feel the students will be in a good program, it is unlikely that people will renew a fight to get it back as a school. The closing was not logical, but the chaos left families weary. But, if the assignment areas were to be changed again it would be impossible not to consider reopening it.
We have to ask if the current assignment areas are sustainable since there are families around Stevens who have been assigned to Lowell and McGilvra who are unhappy about not having access to Stevens. If the current assignment areas are not sustainable then the community could easily make a case to get it back and insist that they had quite a lot of say in the program.
Please check the building conditions of all schools before this is used as the reason for selling any of the property. Costs for asbestos and lead remediation were not the reason that AME got the building over the community group and was never discussed as a reason for selling the building. In fact all the schools in the entire District had undergone lead remediation just a few years before. It had been a perfectly fine school for students within the last three years of being sold. The reason was due to low enrollment and that there was pressure on the District about having too many facilities open for the number of students. MLK for instance is a lager site with more room than either Madrona or Montlake.
The asking price may have factored in this type of information. I would prefer not to have look it up again; so if you have it, please post it. I would have to look at the history and sales info. Remember, some of this can exist safely if it is not exposed.
I wasn’t saying that building condition was THE reason for the sale, I was putting it out there as a possible reason (of several, I would hope) for why the District would go for sale rather than for lease.
I think most of us agree selling a school building in this climate was misguided, and hopefully the short-sightedness will be remedied if the deal is reopened due to the mishandled contracts the District pushed through.
I don’t mean to obsess. Perhaps I have sat through too many meetings and have a sense of the history without all the details. Since I asked, and this magically appeared in a discussion on the saveseattleschools blog, here is a clue to building conditions. Remember the lower numbers equal a better rating. I say clue as some communities found errors in the narrative accompanying much of this. So this is just a clue If you notice MLK and Mann, while not highly rated were not the worst especially at the time of closing. TT Minor’s condition was upgraded after a new roof in 2010 before Hamlin Robinson moved in. Lot size is important too in judging the potential and is not indicated here. Remember also that many of the ones not well rated in the North End are currently being reopened as schools for a price.
New comments and story as the story gains some traction.
Something I missed in my original stories is the additional money made available later:
Below is from the saveseattleschools blog:
“I also didn’t know that in May of 2010, legislators Sharon Tomiko-Santos, Adam Kline and Eric Pettifgrew found more state money for the sale(which is the majority of First AME’s offer). They requested that the district reopen the RFP process after it was closed. They gave all bidders another month.
What is even more disturbing is that a previously allocated $1M came from the Department of Commerce’s Community Schools program. Fred Stephens left SPS to work for the DOC by the end of June 2010. “
Money didn’t come from the Federal Govt, it came from the State of WA Dept of Commerce. They originally allocated 1.5 million for the Community school program(in 2008 or 09), Those 3 legislators were lobbied by the [email protected] group to get more money for them, so when the legislature was supposed to be cutting our deficit they actually increased this program by 1 million to 2.5 million. [email protected] didn’t think about FAME getting it. Anyway, it is over, FAME has title and owns it now.
The new owner is listed as MLK FAMILY ARTS MENTORING ENRICHMENT COMMUNITY CENTER, a nonprofit corporation set up by FAME. They took title on Feb. 17, 2011
tims, I see what you are saying in several areas, and it may be a done deal. Nonetheless, at the time the legislators took credit for getting the first round of money; therefore, they must have lobbied for it. I assume if it had not been used for this project they might have been able to get it for another project and auditing the process used may well be appropriate. I will say that at the time many in the community saw it as sort of reparations for losing so many schools. All the closed schools were in the 37th, and the SUAC group was in the process of meeting to decide how they wanted the building used. At the time I think many were thinking it would become sort of community run center, sort of like some other schools. Really, the selling was being rushed, and who knows when the plotting for AME to become the owner began. I did not attend most of the SUAC meetings. The appointed committee is listed in this document which is a record of the meetings: http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/mi/suac/mlk/mlk_final_r
I have to say the District and City are well-represented in terms of those voting members and much of language seems to reflected permitted uses by the City and District. A more careful reading of the minutes or comments by attendees would be necessary to flush out what the community expected after these meetings and how they felt they were run. Ron English was chair.