Walking by the school again last night it seemed to me that this is precisely the kind of neighborhood gem that, if left to the tender mercies of bureaucratic process and school board politics, may well end up lost, turned into something that offers limited benefit to the community, or just neglected. As I understand it, it's unlikely to become a school again, and given the inertia of the system, it may end up being used for cheapest/easiest uses for years, or just left vacant.
That's clearly not what the neighborhood wants, at least from the conversations I've been in and overheard. The sentiment I hear is that if it's not going to be a thriving neighborhood school, let's at least make this a thriving neighborhood institution of SOME sort.
I've heard a ton of ideas around the neighborhood for what to do with the Columbia School. There seem to be lots of people thinking about how to use thus site so that the building itself can be preserved and find new life while the property as a whole is redeveloped in some way that becomes an amenity and resource for the whole community (and preferably doesn't include trailers, in my view).
As far as I can see, this is a public property with no known future, one that contains a graceful and loved historic building, and a lot of unused or poorly-used land. It's a great building on a full block one block from a neighborhood core and two blocks from light rail. It can be anything the community wants it to be. This kind of opportunity is really rare in a city like Seattle, and won't come again in our neighborhood.
I've heard it proposed as a community nonprofit center, like the Good Shepherd center in Wallingford; as a neighborhood arts facility, like the Youngstown arts center; as a neighborhood hub and tool library like the Phinney neighborhood center; as a sustainability workshop and learning center, where people can learn everything from organic gardening to home solar installation, can get a zipcar or some tomato starts for their yard; a public market which could house the farmers' market outside and local craftspeople inside; or (my hobby horse) a co-working facility with day care… and these are just the ideas I've heard (sorry if I mangled any of them).
Any one of these would be better than what we're likely to get. Some community-selected blending that created a unique place would be an amazing benefit to the whole neighborhood, arguably the whole city.
All it needs is a vision and a group of people willing to push things forward a bit.
There are tools for creating group visions. One of them is the "charrette." It's a term used by architects and planners and designers to mean a short, focused collaboration by a group of people to come up with creative solutions to a specific problem. Maybe we need a neighborhood charrette for the Columbia School's future?
In any case, we certainly need more discussion of what we'd like to see happen there…
Ashley, I'd love to see you guys follow up on this both editorially… and perhaps as part of a citizen process? Maybe you guys could create the charrette?
Who else might like to get involved in creating something like this?