The Woodinville City Council endorsed an Old Schoolhouse renovation plan at its June 6 meeting that includes construction of a downtown plaza and development of up to five stories of retail space and housing.
By a 5-2 vote, council members directed city staff to create a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from interested developers, the first step in finding a developer to renovate the schoolhouse and construct housing, retail space and parking at the three-acre site that includes the schoolhouse and the Carol Edwards Recreation Center near city hall.
Council member Paula Waters said the plan will meet the city’s dual goals of preserving the schoolhouse and adding to the city’s housing supply. While critics of the plan questioned the density of the proposed development, Waters said the addition of housing and retail space will benefit the downtown area.
“For a community plaza like this to work, there has to be a neighborhood around it,” Waters said. “We have to think of this as a neighborhood, and not a blight.”
For more than a decade, the city has debated renovation proposals for the schoolhouse, which was built in 1909 and served as both a school and Woodinville’s first city hall, but now stands vacant and deteriorating.
In October 2015, the council turned down a renovation proposal from a developer who would have purchased the building and renovated it to make space for restaurants, wine tasting rooms and a museum. Although the proposal drew support on the council and from historic preservation groups, it was turned down because it would also have required the city to spend several million dollars on construction of a parking facility.
Civic campus project
The current effort added the civic campus to the development proposals, including the Edwards center, which houses a branch of the Northshore YMCA. In addition to repairing the school house, council members say they favor a development plan that would keep a renovated recreation center at the site.
Consultants hired by the city to guide the development effort said parking and other costs unlikely to be paid for by a developer would be costly to the city, but that by allowing private housing and retail development at the site, the city could offset much of those costs.
Brian Vanneman, a principal at Leland Consulting Group of Portland, presented council members with a series of development proposals for the site. The most costly and least densely developed of the proposals would cost the city more than $4 million, Vanneman estimated, while the more densely developed plans, such as that endorsed by the council, might allow the city to show a small profit when the project is complete.
“We can have low-density and write a big check,” said City Manager Brandon Buchanan, “or we can have high density and not write a big check – or as big a check.”
Mayor Bernie Talmas and Council Member Al Taylor voted against the high-density development proposals. Both said they wanted more information on the cost of the development, including a discussion of whether the YMCA of Greater Seattle might contribute to the project as part of the recreation center renovation.
In addition, Talmas said he would prefer a schoolhouse renovation plan that does not involve selling city property to a private developer.
“It’s civic space,” Talmas said. “I’d like to keep it that way.”
‘Demolition by neglect’
The council meeting drew a crowd of more than 50, many of whom urged council members to adopt an ambitious development plan.
Brian Rich, a sustainable preservation architect, told council members that they should act quickly while it is still possible to save the Old Schoolhouse.
Although the condition of the vacant building has deteriorated over the past decade, “it is not unsalvageable,” Rich said. “But we are approaching a situation that can be described as ‘demolition by neglect’.”
Council members ‘ vision of the proposed civic plaza is based on consultants’ drawings of a site with a pedestrian walkway and grand staircase, in addition to buildings for housing, recreation and retail activity. While that vision can help provide direction to a developer, Vanneman has urged the council to grant developers the freedom to create their own proposals for the site.
The council is scheduled to vote on the wording of the RFQ, in which developers will be asked to express interest in the project, at its July 18 meeting.
Vanneman estimated that by the end of the year the city would have a list of finalists for the project, and might take another six months to negotiate a development agreement.
“We’re probably two years, if not more, from groundbreaking,” he said.