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Christian school looking ot move into 200 Mill building

Much of Amazing Grace
Much of Amazing Grace's school work is done online, even here in this second-grade classroom where students are doing assessments.
— image credit: Tracey Compton, Renton Reporter

The former Renton City Hall building at 200 Mill Ave. may soon have some new tenants. The City of Renton is in communication with Amazing Grace Christian School of Renton to lease space for its school there.

“Because we have completely outgrown our facility, we are searching for an additional site that serves our expanding student population,” said David-Paul Zimmerman, school administrator. “Last year we added 43 new students and this year we have added 41 students after we lifted a self-imposed enrollment cap that we had in place for the last 10 years.”

Amazing Grace has had a waiting list 15 to 60 students deep, depending upon the grade level, during that time. They teach preschool through eighth-graders. Presently they have around 190 students enrolled at the school.

School officials hope to expand their middle school, grades 9 and 10, at the site with approval from the city for a five year lease. The site is attractive, Zimmerman said, because of the amenities within walking distance of the building: an outdoor basketball court, tennis courts, skate park, walking trails and ball fields.

“I think it’s a win-win for both of us,” Zimmerman said. “The city gets to utilize its property in the area of education and at the same time gets to have revenue coming in.”

Amazing Grace gets about two visits a day from parents interested in sending their kids to the school. Amazing Grace has been at its present location in Renton’s Skyway neighborhood since 1972. If plans go through for the additional space at 200 Mill, a maximum of 20 students would be added and the school would occupy the space starting Aug. 1, opening September 2014.

Whether or not the school completely vacates the space will also depend on another interested party in their current location. School administration has been approached by a California company interested in leasing their present location for a new charter high school. A real estate broker visited Amazing Grace a few weeks ago and they were given a three week time period to decide.

Forty percent of Amazing Grace’s student population comes from Renton and Zimmerman said the school is not what you’d expect of a private Christian academy.

“One of the things that sets us a part, as you can see, it’s a pretty diverse school,” he said. “This is not a middle-class, Caucasian school of wealthy families, which I have nothing against.”

Tuition is close to $6,000 a year and a good portion of the children are said to come from first and second generation immigrants living in the community.

“It’s very exciting…how they educate the kids and the success that they have is pretty remarkable,” said Peter Renner, City of Renton facilities director.

There has been flurries of potential activity with different groups coming and going, looking at floors in 200 Mill. Presently two-thirds of the building is vacant.

Communities in Schools of Renton, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, the Renton Police Department, the City of Renton Attorney’s Office and First Rate Mortgage all occupy space in the building.

Based on local reports, Renner said, the vacancy rate for Class B office space hasn’t been going down very fast and it might be optimistic to think that the building will fill up anytime soon. There should be improvements overall in the market based on those same reports, he said.

“The city positions itself where we’re making sure all of our leases are market rate for two reasons,” Renner said.

The reasons are so the public knows they’re getting the best return and the city doesn’t want to undercut the commercial real estate rate, he said.

Zimmerman met with Renner and other officials about a week ago to discuss issues like the temporary location of the downtown library at the site and the potential to expand the school within the building.

“In many ways it is an ideal setting and opens our school to a huge population of students that we cannot serve at our present site,” said Zimmerman.

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