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What’s A Neighborhood Without A School?

by Kirby Lindsay Laney
Originally published May 3, 2000 in
The Seattle Press

 

In honor of the 125th Anniversary of B.F. Day Elementary School, being celebrated on May 20th, 2017, Fremocentrist re-posts this column, with edits.

 

Photo of Benjamin Franklin Day and a young ward he and his wife, Frances, attempted to adopt.  Provided by B.F. Day Elementary School

Photo of Benjamin Franklin Day and a young ward he and his wife, Frances, attempted to adopt. Provided by B.F. Day Elementary School

In 1892 local resident Benjamin Franklin Day and his wife, Frances, donated land for construction of a school in the town of Fremont.  Childless, the Days were nevertheless concerned about the futures of area children.  The land was gifted to the School District on two conditions:  the school would create a legacy for Mr. Day by carrying his name 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 Elementary 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, secretary, first arrived at the oldest brick school in Seattle, at 39th & Linden Avenue North, in 1986 , it was “dark, gloomy and cold”.  The School District had promised a new, state-of-the-art building and, when asked her opinion, the new principal of B.F. Day, Carole Williams, said, “It sounds good to me.”

It sounded awful to Fremont.  B.F. Day, the only public school in Fremont, is now the oldest continually operated school in this District.  Some feared the historic building would never be torn down but would sit as an empty, large, white elephant.  The Fremont Chamber of Commerce saw this decision as another kick in the shin to a district barely regaining its legs, while many in Wallingford thought it would be great to have yet another school in their neighborhood.

The modern B.F. Day Elementary School building, in 2012, with signs in a series of windows spelling out 'We Love Our School'!  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney

The modern B.F. Day Elementary School building, in 2012, with signs in a series of windows spelling out ‘We Love Our School’! Photo by K. Lindsay Laney

Suzie Burke didn’t.  “This will leave Fremont without a school,” she promised at community meetings, “but if it stays we will support it.”  Business owners Marc Jones, Terry Denton, Jim Daly and Burke went to the School Board and pointed out that new businesses moving into Fremont had to refurbish funky, old buildings.  Why couldn’t the School District?  “Our interference at the School Board as a Business District,” Burke recalled recently, “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,” Williams explained recently, “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.  Mize recalled, “We all pulled together, like you do when faced with a difficult situation.  It brought us closer.”

Parents, staff, and neighbors gather for a fundraiser for B.F. Day School, at Pecado Bueno.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Sep '12

Parents, staff, and neighbors gather for a fundraiser for B.F. Day School, at Pecado Bueno. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Sep ’12

“Right away we turned around and went to the school and asked what they wanted,” Burke 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 biggest beneficiary.  The Fremont Historical Society finds citizens and teachers of historic significance, and with hands-on history of our area, through their ties to the school.  The Fremont Arts Council rents workshop space, The Powerhouse, from the school, from which they provide our community with celebration art.  Our businesses and non-profits often find common ground, and do outreach, through the school community.  Most importantly, our children, employees and neighbors often emerge from this community school with a educational foundation on which they can draw for a lifetime.

 

 

Publisher’s Note:  The author of this column is a blood relative of one of its sources (Suzie Burke.) 

 


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©2017 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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