Public Schools Code Updates - What & Why

Seattle skyline looking south from Lake Union

What's Happening Now?

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections and Department of Neighborhoods are proposing updates to the Land Use Code for new public school construction projects. The amendments are intended to help support current educational needs such as flexible classroom design, outdoor play areas, parking, and school bus loading. Changes are also proposed for the public schools departure process that uses an advisory committee to consider flexibility in how standards are applied to school construction. These changes include the purpose of the committee, its decision-making process, and the make-up of the committee. 


The City allows public schools in all zones. In commercial zones they need to meet the zone’s development standards (i.e. building height, building floor area limits). In residential zones, public schools need to meet standards for Public Schools in Residential Zones (Land Use Code Chapter 23.51B). These standards are out of date and do not accommodate the educational needs of public schools.  

Departures from development standards may be permitted or required pursuant to procedures and criteria established in Land Use Code Chapter 23.79 Establishment of Development Standard Departure for Public Schools.

The code updates would better support public school projects that support student learning while fitting in neighborhoods.

Proposal Summary

The list below outlines our preliminary recommendations and anticipated benefits.

Development Standards:  Issues, Preliminary Recommendations, and Anticipated Benefits

  1. Parking. The existing requirement for the number of parking spaces is based on the size of assembly space, essentially accommodating the peak demand for special events rather than daily needs. Seattle Public Schools shows demand is much lower and over suppling parking takes away space available for more desirable uses. Departures for parking are often requested by Seattle Public Schools and granted by the SDCI Director. 
    • SDCI recommends changing the parking requirement to 1 parking space for every six classrooms. This would base the requirement on the number of staff and visitors generally on-site daily.
    • The benefits of this recommendation include:
      • Better matches existing Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections/Seattle Public Schools practice that results from granting a departure to meet the actual demand as demonstrated by transportation studies
      • Accounts for Seattle Public Schools programs that promote walking, biking and transit use to reflect daily parking demand
      • Frees up space for play areas, landscape buffers and classrooms
  2. Height. The existing height limit is 30 feet and includes an allowance for rooftop mechanical equipment when not enclosed by screening. To better serve school needs, Seattle Public Schools routinely seeks departures to height and to provide weather protection screening of rooftop equipment.
    • SDCI recommends changing the requirement to allow 45 feet for the building and 15 feet for screened rooftop mechanical equipment. This would apply a height allowance that better accommodates multi-floor schools and allow screened equipment on rooftops.
    • The benefit of this recommendation is that it accommodates urban schools with stacked floors and common spaces such as gyms. This allows for more efficient use of land for outdoor play space and full-service schools to meet student and neighborhood needs.
  3. Bus loading. The existing code requires bus loading to be located on-site, which would result in substantially paved areas. Many schools have historically used curbside loading. Departures to allow curbside bus loading are commonly requested and granted.
    • SDCI recommends updating bus loading requirement to allow existing on-street (curbside) bus loading space to remain and only require departures when curbside loading is expanded (i.e., additional buses or location enlarged).
    • The benefits of this recommendation include:
      • Accommodates needs of staff, students, and visitors (including Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for curbside loading)
      • Includes consultation with Seattle Department of Transportation to help optimize the loading use in the street right-of-way
  4. Electric / reader board signs. The existing sign standards do not allow for changing image signs, which are vital for providing information to families. Departures for reader boards are often requested and granted.
    • SDCI recommends updating sign standards to allow electric / reader board signs. The update would allow one electric reader board sign outright, and add new standards for frequency of movement, color, and operating standards. Current limits on size (height/width/sign area) would be maintained.
    • The benefit of this recommendation is that it allows for messages in multiple languages to match with current needs of students and staff, inclusive of diverse students and families. 

Departures Process:  Issues, Preliminary Recommendations, and Anticipated Benefits

  1. Advisory committee. Advisory committees are assembled and staffed by DON for each individual project and are disbanded once their review is completed. Members are typically not experienced with the review criteria and scope of the departure process in advance of selection.
    • SDCI and DON recommend updating the purpose in the mission statement of the advisory committee; updating the decision-making process of the advisory committee by refreshing the review criteria and revamping the report content requirements; and updating the composition and service requirements of the advisory committee by modifying the composition of the advisory committee to allow a wider range of expertise, allow more continuity of members, and afford more experience/training for committee members
    • The benefits of this recommendation include:
      • Adds clarity to the departure process and purview of the Advisory Committee including revamping the reports for more focused, swifter processing
      • Allows for experienced committee members to better deliberate on departure requests and make more consistent recommendations to the SDCI Director
      • Maintains local representation on the committees

Information Sessions Available

We are happy to meet with individuals or groups to discuss how our code updates can improve the school construction process while helping new and remodeled schools fit into the surrounding neighborhood. To schedule a meeting, please contact

We look forward to your comments or feedback about our proposed updates for school construction. Please send your suggestions to

Sign up on our listserv to receive updates about our progress.

Project Benefits

Updating the regulations can better accommodate modern schools to support student learning while maintaining compatibility with neighborhoods where schools are located. The goal of this update is to:

  • Apply standards that better meet state and district education and school program requirements and maintain compatibility with surrounding neighborhoods
  • Achieve better outcomes in the public school departure process by updating the process and reducing the extent and number of departures required to help build new school projects

The End Result

These Land Use Code updates will allow for easier-to-use codes specifically tailored for today’s public school projects to support student learning and continued neighborhood compatibility. Our timeline is as follows:

Mid-June 2024
Staff concept proposals available

Early / Mid-July
Staff draft legislation and environmental decision

Early Fall 2024
SDCI and DON recommend final legislation to the Mayor 

The end result would help permit school buildings to better serve school programming and educational needs. 

Construction and Inspections

Nathan Torgelson, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 684-8600
Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
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SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.