EVERETT — If the Everett School District proceeds with its plans, the historic Longfellow building will be razed and replaced by a parking lot by the end of next summer.
The building dates to 1911. It was Longfellow Elementary School until 1971. Its alumni include U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and local entertainer Stan Boreson.
Later the school was used to house part of the administration before the district built its new headquarters on Broadway. Since 2013 it has sat mostly vacant, used for police and fire training and little else.
Mike Gunn, executive director of facilities and maintenance, told the Everett Historical Commission last week that the district was unable to find a buyer for the building and planned to move ahead with demolition.
The commissioners have been opposed to losing the building. Commission chairman Jack O’Donnell noted that the city of Everett is expecting more growth in population and density in the coming years.
“Paving a city block when we’re talking about high density and the challenges of it, it just seems like we’re moving in the wrong direction,” O’Donnell said.
The Historical Commission has no regulatory authority over the district’s decision, city planner Paul Popelka said. The Longfellow building is not listed on either local or national registers of historic places, although it would be eligible for that.
The meeting was held at the district’s request, given the commission’s interest in the property, Popelka said.
According to the district’s plan, razing the Longfellow and the adjacent 1950s-era annex building would create 64 new parking spots next to the district’s athletic complex. About 33 of the parking stalls are in the Longfellow’s footprint, 31 in the annex’s.
The district has maintained it needed the parking spots for the nearby athletic fields and buildings, but Commissioner Steve Fox said there were already 850 spots in various off-street lots and on-street areas within a few blocks, a walking distance people already are used to at Alderwood mall, which has a footprint about the same size of the athletic complex.
“I just kind of hate to see this beautiful building go away for 33 parking spots,” Fox said.
Chris Moore, the executive director of the nonprofit Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, said that Sen. Jackson was the prime sponsor of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966.
“It would be a sad irony if the building in which he attended elementary school were demolished on or about the 50th anniversary of that act,” Moore said.
Dave Ramstad, a former board member of Historic Everett, suggested the building could be converted to housing for homeless people.
“Why do we even consider destroying any standing structures whatever their purpose when our neighbors are sleeping outside?” Ramstad said.
The district has estimated it would cost $8.5 million to bring it up to modern standards for an office building, and perhaps an additional $5 million over the next 20 years to maintain it. The building is only worth about $2-3 million.
The district’s analysis of the building concluded that any private party that purchased the building with a requirement to maintain its historical character would end up losing money, Gunn said.
Only two letters of interest were received over about 18 months the building was on the market, Gunn said. One, from the non-profit HandUp Project, was deemed to be financially nonviable, while the second, from the Trimark Property Group of Pacific, Washington, was “nonresponsive,” in that it did not provide key information for the district to consider it.
The district spent $36,373 between September 2014 and April 2015 marketing the building. That cost represents work done by two Seattle-based real estate consulting firms, Century Pacific and Long Bay Enterprises.
The two firms were paid an hourly rate. The fee represents 151 hours for the two contracts, Gunn said.
The district has been spending about $6,300 per month keeping the building lit, heated and supplied with water. Demolishing it and building a new parking lot would cost about $780,000, Gunn said.
The next steps in the process involve the demolition and paving project’s environmental review, and any compensatory steps that review calls for. The school board would have to vote to declare the building surplus before it could be razed.
Moore noted that the district is both the applicant in the environmental review and the lead agency in reviewing the project.
“I know this is the law right now, but there’s an inherent conflict of interest in the way this is implemented,” Moore said.
He said the district’s environmental review should go beyond a cursory list of artifacts to be saved and reach a finding of “significance,” which would require a third party to prepare an environmental impact review.