New SCDS campus will look, work better - Planning process aims to involve everyone affected

Seattle Country Day School's building and traffic improvement plan has generated lots of discussion lately - and we hope for more dialogue as the next step of the planning and permitting process is implemented this summer. We encourage our neighbors in the Queen Anne community to inform themselves about our proposal and provide constructive input. We believe the community and the school can work together to make sure the plan meets the needs of the school and the neighborhood.

Seattle Country Day School is a small, independent school - about 56 staff members and 305 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students - that emphasizes academic excellence, creativity and good citizenship. For the past 29 years, the school has been nestled on the northeast slope of Queen Anne. Like many Seattle communities, the Mayfair neighborhood has had a school in its midst for many decades; the original school building that we occupy has been here for 76 years.

We last made major improvements to our campus more than 10 years ago. Since then we have tried to address evolving educational demands within the existing facilities, but now we need again to make changes. We also know that just as our needs have changed, so have our neighbors' expectations changed regarding how SCDS can be a better neighbor. There have been mistakes and controversies in our shared past. We hope this building-improvement project will address the needs of everyone involved.

We started our planning by involving the school's neighbors early in the design process. We met with neighbors and modified the plan in response to their comments. We have tried to address their concerns about traffic, parking, enrollment, landscaping and scale of the buildings near family homes.

Here, in brief, is the plan: SCDS is proposing to build a much-needed new middle-school building, as well as a driveway and turnaround for cars, onsite parking spaces, a new play area and a new building for administrative offices. We also will renovate existing buildings.

Five existing houses - which we own - will be removed to make room for these changes. Some of the improvements will be made as early as 2006; other improvements will be completed later, in a second phase, if private funds are raised.

The new campus is designed to house the same number of students as we now serve. Except for a temporary period when we might add up to 23 students and five staff as we restructure grades, we plan to maintain an enrollment of 300 to 308 students.

A number of the plan's features reflect input from our neighbors. For example, our architect initially believed that new buildings would need to be located at the bottom of our sloped site, near homes. After hearing neighbors' concerns, the architect changed the design, moving the new buildings up and away from homes. The buildings will be terraced and tucked into the hillside to reduce their bulk.

We heard that our neighbors dislike the look of our current middle-school building and that they want to preserve the character of the neighborhood. The building design includes elements that reflect the personality of homes in the neighborhood, such as gabled roofs and the use of different siding materials at lower and upper levels. The renovated campus will have a unified, classic look. Professional landscaping will provide a park-like buffer.

The neighbors also asked us to include sufficient onsite parking space and a place for traffic queuing off the street. Our proposal includes a driveway so that parents driving to pick up their children will line up on the school grounds and turn around in a dead-end street that abuts the campus. Our plan includes enough on-campus parking spaces to accommodate all our needs during the day and for most evening events.

In addition to planning traffic-management improvements, we formed a traffic committee last year. Several neighbors were members. As a result, SCDS hired an off-duty Seattle police officer to help reduce speeding and to direct traffic during the after-school pick-up time, making it safer for everyone.

We significantly revised our guidelines for drop-off and pick-up of students and for parking by parents. We improved the carpooling information packet we give parents. We arranged for off-site parking for Grandparents' Day, our biggest school event. We remind parents - all the time - to drive slowly, park legally and to not block driveways near the school. All these efforts will continue.

We submitted our proposed building and traffic improvements to the city last August. Now we are working our way through the city's master use permitting process. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be released July 13. We look forward to seeing what steps the EIS recommends we take to mitigate impacts our project will have.

We encourage the community to comment on the EIS. You can send written comments to the city until the end of August, or make a statement in person at a hearing to be held mid-August. Find more information on the SCDS web site at

We also are troubled to say that during this process we were informed by the city of Seattle that we are not in compliance with certain land-use regulations. We are working to correct problem conditions at the school. More important, we will make it a priority of the incoming administration to make sure that this type of situation does not occur again.

We at Seattle Country Day School love the school's neighborhood and strive to be part of it. That's why our kindergartens have teamed up with the Queen Anne Helpline to gather clothes, toys, books and groceries for local families in need. Other students regularly visit residents of Queen Anne Healthcare to spread good cheer.

Each month, fourth- and fifth-graders make sandwiches that are distributed to homeless people in the area. The classes in our youngest division have adopted "Little Howe" Park, improving it by filling pot holes, planting grass and hanging bird feeders.

And we will continue to work with our neighbors, the Queen Anne Community Council as well as the city to make the changes at Seattle Country Day School an improvement for everyone.

Rose Boyle is president of the Seattle Country Day School board of trustees.[[In-content Ad]]