Community groups occupying a vacant Central Area school building have Seattle Public Schools officials reconsidering renovation and plans to reopen it as a high school next year.
About 18 of the groups, organized under the name More 4 Mann Coalition, have been operating programs out of the Horace Mann school building on East Cherry Street for several months and say they want to retain the building as a community hub.
The groups are not paying rent to the district, officials said.
The district shuttered the 110-year-old structure four years ago amid school closings tied to reduced enrollment. With enrollment now rising, the district planned to renovate Mann beginning Sept. 3 so it could return Nova Alternative High School there next fall.
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Now, all that is uncertain. After telling the community groups in a letter this month that they needed to vacate by Aug. 15 — and then adjusting that date to Aug. 30 — the district has now formed a task force to study options not just for itself but for the organizations, whose programs it says align with the district’s five-year strategic plan.
“We want to be sensitive to what’s going on there, work in partnership with the community and the programs they have in place,” said district spokeswoman Teresa Whipple
“We are committed to working with them to figure out some options,” which, she said, could include helping them find space elsewhere or continued use of Horace Mann.
“We aren’t going to just go in and physically move them without dialogue about how to help.”
For months, community organizations have been pressing the district to reconsider its plans to return Nova to Mann and to allow the building instead to be used as a community hub for young people in the neighborhood.
First opened in 1903, the 33,000-square-foot blue and white neoclassic building closed as an elementary school in 1968 and has since housed alternative programs including Nova, which moved to the Meany Middle School building in 2009.
At a meeting in May, people from the community told Superintendent José Banda and other district officials there was no place in the Central Area for youth programs and that the Mann building would serve as an ideal spot.
Kwame Wyking Garrett, chairman of UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center, one of the occupying groups, said his organization welcomes the chance to partner with the district to determine the building’s future.
“A consortium of community-based organizations is providing vital programs here,” Garrett said.
Umoja offers a range of programs for young people in the Central Area, and was recently awarded a $15,000 technology grant to provide training and workshops.
“We’re working with the superintendent and the mayor’s office to prevent displacement of programs and working on future use of the Horace Mann building as a mitigating project against many of the problems the district is having with African-American students,” Garrett said.
It’s not unusual for Seattle schools to allow vacant school buildings to be used for community-based programs.
The John Marshall High School building, near Northgate, was leased to several tenants before the district ended those leases to begin preparing the building for future use.
In 2010, the district signed a three-year lease with a group called People’s Family Life, which used the Horace Mann building to provide job-training skills to young high-school dropouts.
People’s paid $3,300 a month in rent to the district, and also paid to heat the old building at a cost that at times approached $3,000 a month.
The organization subleased space in the hulking structure to the private English/Spanish immersion school, Seattle Amistad School.
In December, the district notified the two groups that they needed to vacate by June, which People’s did. The district gave Amistad until Aug. 15 to find a new home, which it did.
That left behind more than a dozen other groups that moved there as affiliates of Amistad. Those groups provide programs ranging from photography and video workshops to fitness and self-image.
One of the organizations, Al-Noor Academy of Arts and Sciences, is using space in the building to run a summer program for Muslim middle-school girls. This is its second summer for the program, which has seven students enrolled.
Julia Ismael, who runs Al-Noor Academy, said the six-week program, which wraps up this week, provides a range of classes — from math to conversational Arabic. She added a class this year in social-media awareness, with lessons in resolving online conflicts.
Ismael said tenants paid Amistad what they could afford. Without the deal, she said, her program would not have been possible this year.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @turnbullL.