After 20 years of serving the Asian-American community in Seattle, the Asian Resource Center in the Chinatown International District is closing its doors and will be replaced with a new charter school called Summit Public School: Sierra. The community center’s last scheduled event was its 15th annual New Year’s Eve party Wednesday night; the owners have until Jan. 9 to empty the building.
Los Angeles-based Pacific Charter School Development bought the building for $4 million in a deal that closed Dec. 10, according to property records.
The center was built in 1994 in honor of Robert Chinn, founder of the United Savings & Loan Bank in Seattle, considered the first Asian-American-owned bank in the U.S. (it opened in 1960 and was sold in 2003). He died in 1984, but opening a community center was something Chinn had always thought about, said his son Derek Chinn, board member of the building operator, the Robert Chinn Foundation.
Karen Wong, Robert Chinn’s daughter and president of the foundation, said she wanted the center — which is a 13,700-square-foot building with a gymnasium, three conference rooms and a commercial kitchen — to be an inexpensive gathering place for the community to hold events and have classes.
Most Read Local Stories
- Storm blows into Seattle area, but weather is in for bright change soon
- These are the most popular baby names in WA
- What Seattleites vow to never wear again
- From Longview to Tanzania: the long, strange journey of a Chinese crew struggling to get home
- Idaho Gov. Little turns back Trump-backed challenger
The foundation put the center up for sale two years ago. Chinn said it was because he and his sister “were not getting any younger” — and neither was the building.
“After 20 years it needs some major repairs,” he said. “ It would have been tough; we would have needed to spend another six figures to keep the building in shape.”
As word spread about the closing of the center, the Asian-American community around Puget Sound was disheartened.
Paula Souvannaphasy said her family — originally from Laos — drove from Marysville to Seattle to attend Laotian events and weddings at the center. She said she heard a couple months ago that the community center was closing. So when her aunt asked her to participate in a Laotian fashion show at the center in November, she had to say yes. “It is kind of a special place and I didn’t really think about it until I heard it was going to close,” she said.
“It is sad … I know the Laotian community depended on it a lot.”
While Wong said she is also sad the center is closing, she is pleased it will become a high school. “We marketed mainly to people who would use it as another community center or a school,” she said. “We thought this would be the best match because it would be a boom to the International District to have a higher-learning facility in the district.”
According to its website, Pacific Charter School Development provides long-term affordable facilities to increase the availability of charter schools for underserved students.
Pacific Charter is one of many organizations to receive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over the past year. It received a nearly $4 million grant in April “to support the facility needs of charter schools in Washington state.” Pacific Charter did not return a request for comment.
Charter schools are free, independently run but publicly funded schools that aren’t bound by many of the same restrictions governing typical public schools. In exchange for agreeing to a set of goals, called a charter, charter schools receive money per student like traditional public school districts do.
Voters narrowly passed an initiative in 2012 allowing charter schools to open in this state. The law allows for up to eight charter schools to be opened each year for a total of 40 over five years.
So far, a state commission has approved eight charter schools. One opened last fall in Seattle, six more will open in 2015, and one will open in 2016. Spokane Public Schools, which also may authorize charter schools, has approved two, both opening in 2015.
Scheduled to open in the fall of 2015, Summit Public School: Sierra will start with one class of 120 ninth-graders, and serve grades nine through 12 by 2018, according to its website.