Tensions were high at the outset of a community meeting hosted by the Seattle transportation department Tuesday at Lowell Elementary regarding the sudden closure of an adjacent pathway over discarded needles and homeless campers, but ended with parents, teachers and neighbors finding some common ground for solving the problem.

These longtime issues surrounding the pathway running past the elementary school playground crossing East Roy Street, from 11th Avenue to Federal Avenue East, came to a head in August, when the Partners at Lowell PTA contacted the mayor’s office and Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly in August.

SDOT Chief of Staff Genesee Adkins said the pathway was overgrown with shrubs, there was at least one tent found, people camping and backpacks and other belongings found in the area.

“Most disturbing, there were hypodermic needles and syringes,” she said, “and that’s what concerned the city.”

A number of concerned parents, many with the PTA, conducted a cleanup of the pathway near the end of August, where a dozen needles and several used condoms were found.

In response to safety concerns, and with advice from the city attorney’s office, SDOT closed the pathway on Sept. 2, stating it would engage the public to find longterm solutions.

“This was a challenging situation,” Adkins said, “and we did not take it likely.”

Adkins said the school district had not approached the city about vacating the property and selling it to Seattle Public Schools, which has occasionally conducted maintenance of the pathway. That would take action by the city council, she said.

“That is a thing that’s on the table, but it is a little involved,” she said.

Adkins told the Capitol Hill Times right of way vacation by the city usually occurs with new development, requiring valuation of the property and determination that turning over the property will result in a public benefit.

Other options SDOT laid out were changes to fencing, opening the pathway during certain hours of the day, installing better lighting, increased police patrols and crafting a maintenance agreement between the city and SPS.

“There are a lot of options on the table,” Adkins said. “We don’t have one option in mind.”

Leading the meeting at Lowell Elementary was Chris Hoffman, with city contract consulting group Stepherson and Associates.

Resident Asa Denton said it’s important to remember a man had been stuck with a discarded needle (sharp) and in one instance a man had screamed and threatened students; that incident caused a temporary school lockdown.

To keep Lowell children safe, Denton said it’s not asking much for people to walk around the block.

Brian Gix, a 28-year resident of the neighborhood, said he was “disturbed” that SDOT made a unilateral decision to close the pathway, but he wants to find a solution to the problem.

“I want my path back,” Gix said. “I use it twice a day, every day.”

One resident on Federal Avenue said she is a substitute teacher for SPS, and the pathway is not the only problem. She said she still notices needles around the school’s fences, and children are free to run around at recess.

“You know kids,” she said. “They poke along the fence.”

Lowell Elementary special education teacher Barbara Lynn said a number of her students are autistic, and they do run their hands along the fence for the sensory experience. She also tells them not to eat wood chips on the playground.

“Piles of feces can look an awful lot like chocolate pudding,” Lynn said, and the bright orange sharps caps are very attractive.

Less than a month after the pathway was closed, a PTA members contacted police to report a woman had left feces on a bridge connecting two play structures. The Capitol Hill Times first reported on the Sept. 13 incident. PTA member Suzanna Mak said for that article that a custodian was now unlocking a gate to the playground on 11th Avenue and another gate between the playground and school for morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups. At the time of the incident, parents and students were using the playground after school.

Lynn said she also had a student who liked to knock on doors, and one time he took the path to residential buildings and began knocking on doors.

“With that pathway open, a kidnapping would be the easiest thing in the world,” she said.

Second-grade teacher Hannah Moffitt said she’s never seen a school with such open public access, and she feels it’s unsafe to have the pathway open during school hours.

Kathleen Klozar, who lives on 10th Avenue, said she’d like to see the pathway restored, but not open during school hours. She also wants the school property to be activated during the summer, making use of the property as a facility and play area.

“Things that are not used attract people who want to use them for other reasons,” she said.

Casey Engler, who lives across from Lowell, said he was bothered by what appeared to be school papers by students asking that the pathway not be reopened.

“That is not good faith,” he said. “That is manipulative.”

A Lowell teacher clarified with several concerned residents that students had requested the opportunity to be represented at the meeting, which is why their papers were set out.

Victoria Beach, a playground monitor for around four years, said she was offended by speakers who didn’t see the same problem expressed by parents and teachers.

She said kids have shown her condoms, sharps and even a man they thought was dead.

“Your sense of entitlement is sickening to me,” Beach said.

Beach grew up across the street and attended Lowell, she told the Capitol Hill Times, and this wasn’t a problem.

“I’ve had to tell a guy who was so high to move,” she said. “The kids were freaking out; they thought he was dead.”

Seattle Police Lt. Grant Ballingham said all three watch patrols increased their focus around Lowell  back in late August, at the direction of East Precinct Capt. Paul McDonagh.

Patrols have been going by in the morning to check for overnight camping at or near the school, as well as keeping watch for public consumption, either of drugs or alcohol. The Anti-Crime Team has also been involved.

Attendees formed brainstorming groups following public comments, reporting back to SDOT what they see as possible solutions: Removing shrubbery or improving maintenance; signage around the school directing people to other areas where they can find services; improved lighting; more funding for outside school supervision, perhaps a groundskeeper; more fencing or mesh around the fence, and straightening the path for a clearer line of sight.

Another public meeting is set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3,  in the Pike-Pine Room at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave.