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Seattle Superintendent does about-face over school for disabled children

Northwest Center was told in late December that they had six months to vacate the building. They say that's not enough time to find a new location that fits the needs of their disabled children. (KIRO Radio Photo/Colleen O'Brien)
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The Seattle Public Schools Superintendent finally speaks more than a month after our original story aired regarding the lease issue at the Seattle Public Schools' North Queen Anne building. That space has housed a non-profit school for disabled children for 28 years.

Northwest Center was told in late December that they had six months to vacate the building. They say that's not enough time to find a new location that fits the needs of their disabled children.

At issue are internal emails between school district employees that show they could have given Northwest Center nearly two years notice but purposely told the school there was no plan to drop the lease until six months ago.

On Monday, KIRO Radio's Colleen O'Brien asked Seattle Schools Superintendent Jose Banda point blank about those internal emails that misled Northwest Center.

Banda would not give a firm answer regarding those emails.

He contends that yes, the emails indicated they were considering Northwest Center's building but said nothing was decided, which is why they didn't tell Northwest Center CEO Tom Everill about their plans earlier.

"Could've, should've, would've. I don't know, I'd have to go back and take a look at all of those emails again," said Banda. "I think that, again, we let him know as soon as we knew for sure that the building was going to be needed. Seven months notice. Is it sufficient? I don't know. I think that in the end we'll find out if that was enough time for them to find a new location."

We'll have to wait and see, however, for the families of these developmentally and physically disabled children there is no room to experiment with timelines.

Now, two weeks ago Banda proposed extending Northwest Center's lease by six months. That would give them until December to find a new home - rather than June.

He explained to Cascade Program parents, who are set to take over the Northwest Center building, that he is just trying to do the right thing.

"It's not that I don't care about Cascade. It's not that I don't have my allegiance to Cascade. Part of that is just trying to be a good neighbor since no one else it stepping up to try and help the Northwest Center to find another new facility," Banda said at that meeting.

Then, last Friday he did an about face telling Northwest Center, that they would still need to be out of their building by June.

And Tuesday he told KIRO Radio the district doesn't have to do a thing for Northwest Center.

"Let me make it real clear, we are not agents for the Northwest Center, so we're not out there actually seeking real estate for them, that's their responsibility," he said.

If we're following the timeline, Superintendent Banda went from, "We want to help Northwest Center in any way we can, we want to be good neighbors," to "We are not agents for Northwest Center," they need to find a new building on their own.

However, he did make an offer to have Northwest Center combine with Cascade at the soon-to-be demolished Wilson-Pacific building in Greenwood.

A building that Cascade's principal told me is swept weekly for drug needles, feces and has no healthy drinking water.

"I'm not familiar about the drinking water, that's the first time I've heard (that)," said Banda.

There are signs posted at Cascade that say there are issues with the drinking water, but Banda contended that he couldn't respond to that. "I don't know. I haven't heard that there are issues with the drinking water. You're going to have problems probably with an intercom but I don't think that that would be a deal breaker."

So it remains, Northwest Center is searching desperately for a new location to house their 120 children.

Nothing will stack up to their current home on North Queen Anne because it was just renovated by a group of charitable builders and contractors (NAIOP) to the tune of $400,000.

The internal school district emails obtained by KIRO Radio show the district pointed NAIOP in the direction of Northwest Center knowing the district would eventually benefit from the project.

Superintendent Banda denied knowing much about that.

"We don't have any record that Northwest Center or NAIOP or anyone engaged the district in the self-help process, so we don't even know to what extent what was done or what improvements were made to the school," he said.

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