WHAT'S A NEIGHBORHOOD WITHOUT A SCHOOL?
by Kirby Lindsay
This column originally appeared, edited, in The Seattle Press, published May 3, 2000.
In 1892, Benjamin Franklin Day and his wife, Frances, donated land in the town of Fremont as a site for a public school. Childless, the Days were concerned about the futures of area children. The land was given to the School District on two conditions – the school would carry Day’s name, and thereby create a legacy for him, and the land would revert back to the state if it were not used for a school.In 1985, the Seattle School District announced their plans to build a new B.F. Day School on the old Lincoln High site in Wallingford, to be re-named Latona. The Fremont community put their collective foot down and mashed those plans into mud.
When Diann Mize, school secretary, first arrived at the oldest brick school building in Seattle, at 39th & Linden Avenue North, in 1985, it was “dark, gloomy and cold”. The School District promised a new, state-of-the-art building and, when asked her opinion, the new principal at B.F. Day, Carole Williams, said, “It sounds good to me.”
It sounded awful to Fremont. B.F. Day remains the only public school in Fremont and the oldest continually operated school in this District. The Historic Building would never be torn down, many believed, but would sit like a large, empty, white elephant. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce saw this as another kick in the shin to a business district barely regaining its legs while many in Wallingford thought it would be great to have yet another school in their neighborhood.
“This will leave Fremont without a school,” Suzie Burke promised at community meetings, “but if it stays we will support it.”
Fremont business owners Marc Jones, Terry Denton, Jim Daly and Suzie went to the School Board and pointed out that new businesses moving into Fremont had to refurbish their funky, old buildings. Why couldn’t the School District? “Our interference at the School Board as a business district,” Suzie recalled, “made them step back and re-think. They were used to neighbors and teachers stepping forward, not businesses.”
The School District relented. “I was never sorry they did not move the school,” Carole explained, “We would never have gotten the help from Fremont that we did.” Remodel of the old building took two years while B.F. Day students and teachers “camped out” at the Old John Hay School. As Diann recalled, “We all pulled together, like you do when faced with a difficult situation. It brought us closer.”
“Right away we turned around and went to the school and asked what they wanted,” Suzie explained. Fund-raisers, donations of school supplies, development of a site council, volunteers and relationships have fulfilled the promise of support.
It is a promise from which Fremont is the often the biggest beneficiary. The Fremont Historical Society finds citizens and teachers of historic significance through their ties to the school. The Fremont Arts Council rents space from the school in which they entertain us all. Our children, employees and neighbors have been educated there for decades – in this cornerstone of our community.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.