Seattle's school district has a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall. What does that have to do with ethicureanism? Well, bear with me as I connect the dots.
The District, which has been plagued with debt, school closures, fractious public meetings, and a superintendent who decided to get out while the getting is good, owns several former schools that are rented to community groups. These buildings include the Phinney Neighborhood Association, the multipurpose Crown Hill Elementary, and the University Heights Community Center.
The buildings are rented to community groups at below-market rates, with resident community groups providing much-needed maintenance to cranky boilers and the buildings themselves. Each center anchors their neighborhoods, with none quite so important as the University Heights Community Center.
We have a school district that needs funds, and a number of valuable properties that are rented on the cheap. What's a dysfunctional school district to do, but re-evaluate rents and raise then to market value.
What's a farmers market to do, to save their spot in the community?
A decade ago, the University Farmers Market was viewed as a potential savior of The Ave, a way to rescue the area from empty store fronts. How bad was it? Rent a copy of Kurt & Courtney. There's a scene in which one of the interviewees expresses his fear of a drug dealer who possesses semi-automatic weapons. The scene was shot on The Ave. Now-a-days, The Ave retains a gritty college feel amidst the Irish bars, Indian and Thai restaurants, t-shirt shops and alternative hangouts.
Every Saturday, the yard at University Heights Community Center hosts a farmers market that is jam packed with food and a few craft booths. Pimply college kids mix with local residents to buy fresh vegetables, fruit, and perhaps fresh ravioli.
The woman at the Market's information booth explained the situation. The Market's agreement is with the University Heights Community Center, not the Seattle School District, so the Market has little power, despite having a vested interest. The signs pleading for support were present only at the information booth, small half-page sheets asking patrons to contact the City Council and the Mayor.
The Farmers Market is taking a low-key approach to the rent issue, which might cause University Heights to abandon the Community Center. I was tipped off to the Market's plight by a friend, which reminded me of the P-I story from early October. The Seattle School District may sell the community centers to developers, for conversion to condos or business use.
Condos seem the likely result, even in condo-glutted Seattle. The centers support community groups in areas that already are saturated with commercial ventures; the neighborhoods don't need the commercial space provided by a three-story former schoolhouse.
The City of Seattle is separate from the Seattle School District, and the City is evaluating whether to fund property acquisitions of community centers. Funding acquisition of several centers would be a boon to the city, by supporting community activities, child development centers, and continuing adult education. Acquisition also would secure the status of the University Farmers Market.
To date, the school district has not been enthusiastic about selling properties to the city, but there may be a shake-up in the schools' administration.
For now, the best way for Seattle residents to influence public policy is to contact the City Council, which is considering the 2007 budget, and Mayor Nickels, and encourage them to set aside funds for the purchase of the properties. There are several properties under consideration, including University Heights Community Center.
Seattle City Council
Sally Clark - sall...@seattle.gov
Richard Conlin - rich...@seattle.gov
David Della - davi...@seattle.gov
Jan Drago - jan....@seattle.gov
Jean Godden - jean...@seattle.gov
Nick Licata - nick...@seattle.gov
Richard McIver - rich...@seattle.gov
Tom Rasmussen - tom....@seattle.gov
Peter Steinbreuck - pete...@seattle.gov
Mayor Greg Nickels - rich...@seattle.gov
(Thanks to Jenni for the tip.)