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in a Queen Anne High condominium.

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Queen Anne High School Sale Violated State Law

Phyllis Fletcher
07/20/2006

The Seattle School District violated Washington State Law when it sold Queen Anne High School. That’s the word from State Auditor Brian Sonntag. The school is already in the hands of developers, who are turning it into condos. KUOW’s Phyllis Fletcher reports.

TRANSCRIPT

A disclosure: the developers of Queen Anne High School Condominiums provide financial support to KUOW.

QUEEN ANNE HIGH SCHOOL IS ONE OF THOSE COOL OLD BUILDINGS.

NICHOLSON: "We’re gonna take a walk through history."

THAT’S KERRY NICHOLSON. HE HEADS UP THE COMPANY THAT’S TURNING QUEEN ANNE HIGH SCHOOL INTO CONDOS. HE PAUSES IN THE VESTIBULE OF THE OLD MAIN ENTRANCE.

NICHOLSON: "I could just imagine all the kids clattering up and down here, and maybe an occasional school bully pulling someone’s books to the floor. And you can feel the history here and imagine what it was like before."

BEFORE IT WAS TURNED INTO APARTMENTS IN THE ‘80s. SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS CLOSED QUEEN ANNE HIGH IN 1981. THE SCHOOL DISTRICT LEASED IT TO A DEVELOPER WHO TURNED IT INTO APARTMENTS IN ‘86. THE LEASE SAID THE DEVELOPER COULD TURN THE APARTMENTS INTO CONDOS.

THE DEVELOPER EXERCISED THAT OPTION LAST YEAR. THE COMPANY TURNED THE BUILDING OVER TO KERRY NICHOLSON IN NOVEMBER, FOR 25 MILLION DOLLARS.

WORKERS ARE FINISHING THE CONDOS RIGHT NOW. CONSTRUCTION MANAGER SCOTT NODLAND SAYS SOME ARE AFFORDABLE, AND SOME ARE HIGH END.

NODLAND: "This is one of our penthouse units, and it’s a gigantic voluminous space with windows that go forever, and I think that’s the ceiling up there. I can sort of make it out. It’s so high up there."

MAYBE 18 FEET HIGH. WITH VIEWS OF DOWNTOWN AND ELLIOT BAY.

FLETCHER: "So, how much is this view gonna run me?"

NODLAND: "A cool million’ll take it."

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT WILL GET A CUT OF 12 PERCENT. AFTER ALL THE UNITS SELL, THE DISTRICT’S 12 PERCENT TAKE SHOULD ADD UP TO ABOUT 7 MILLION DOLLARS.

IN 1986, THAT MIGHT HAVE SEEMED LIKE A GOOD DEAL. BUT STATE AUDITOR BRIAN SONNTAG SAYS NOW, IT LOOKS ILLEGAL.

SONNTAG: "The district did not handle this right."

HE SAYS A SCHOOL DISTRICT THAT WANTS TO SELL SURPLUS REAL ESTATE MUST HAVE THE PROPERTY APPRAISED. THEN THE DISTRICT HAS TO GET 90 PERCENT OF THE APPRAISAL VALUE IN THE SALE. THE LOWEST POSSIBLE PRICE WOULD BE 75 PERCENT—ONLY IF THE PROPERTY SITS UNSOLD FOR A YEAR.

THAT LAW HAS BEEN AROUND SINCE 1975. STATE AUDITOR SONNTAG SAYS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IGNORED THOSE PROVISIONS WHEN IT SIGNED AWAY QUEEN ANNE HIGH IN 1986.

SONNTAG: "The district is out of compliance with that state law. But their own entering into that contract actually prevented them."

PREVENTED THEM FROM SEEKING THE 90 PERCENT PROPERTY VALUE STATE LAW REQUIRED THEM TO GET.

THE DISTRICT’S ONLY OPTION WOULD HAVE BEEN TO SUE TO GET OUT OF THE CONTRACT.

PETER DANIELS IS A SPOKESPERSON FOR SEATTLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. HE SAYS THE DISTRICT’S ATTORNEYS LOOKED AT THAT OPTION LAST YEAR. THEIR PREDICTION: A COURT CASE WAS TOO MUCH OF A GAMBLE.

DANIELS: "If we were to push this issue and take it to court to see if we could change some of the terms, or receive additional money, it seemed likely that we would lose. And then it would be even a further detriment to the districts resources to try and challenge it."

MARY BASS CHAIRS THE OPERATIONS COMMITTEE OF THE SEATTLE SCHOOL BOARD. SHE WISHES DISTRICT PERSONNEL HAD TOLD HER ABOUT THIS EARLIER. SHE LEARNED ABOUT THE LEGAL PROBLEM WHEN A CITIZEN SPOKE UP AT A SCHOOL BOARD MEETING MONTHS AFTER THE SALE WAS COMPLETE.

BASS: "I went, you know, ‘wow.’ I really want to know what the plan is—the district plan is—to resolve this issue and go forward."

FOR NOW, THE STATE AUDITOR’S ADVICE: "DON’T LET IT HAPPEN AGAIN." ESPECIALLY AS THE DISTRICT LOOKS TO LEASE OR SELL SOME OF THE SCHOOLS IT CLOSES NEXT YEAR. MARY BASS PLANS TO ASK DISTRICT PERSONNEL TO REVIEW EXISTING CONTRACTS, TO MAKE SURE THE PROBLEM ISN’T LURKING SOMEWHERE ELSE. PHYLLIS FLETCHER, KUOW NEWS.

© Copyright 2006, KUOW

06.24.18

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