(CLICK FOR FULL-SIZE VERSION: Top of the rendering is west, left is south, right is north)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
For nearby residents, a meeting last night was a chance to voice concerns and ask questions about what will happen over the next six months of demolition and construction, imminent now that Denny International Middle School‘s new building adjacent to nearby Chief Sealth International High School is almost done.
But for a few others at last night’s meeting with members of the project team for the forthcoming transformation of the current Denny site into sports facilities and park space, it was a chance to be sure that the work they had done two years earlier hadn’t somehow changed in the meantime.
Through months of meetings in 2008 and 2009, the original Design Team for the Denny site – including community members as well as school staffers and other stakeholders – had brainstormed, analyzed, and planned. What emerged in 2009, was the final “preferred plan” – see it in our story from its debut.
As you can see if you compare it to the newest graphic, atop this story, what was shown at last night’s meeting was fairly close in its details. But Mary Quackenbush and Sandra Melo, who had been there through the Design Team process, noticed a difference or two.
The six tennis courts on the north side of the site are now one group of courts, instead of having passthroughs between the pairs. And a once-discussed community-information kiosk was nowhere to be found.
Even more importantly, they pressed for more online information about the project, which is the third phase of the Denny/Sealth colocation – first Sealth was remodeled, now the new Denny is about to be occupied, and phase 3 is the demolition of Denny’s almost-60-year-old buildings, to be replaced by what is in essence “a park with no name” – though a Seattle Public Schools rep at the meeting explained it’ll be treated as an extension of the Southwest Athletic Complex, the district-owned/operated sports fields and stadium immediately east (wrapping around city Parks Department-owned Southwest Community Center).
(Just as we were finishing this story, extra graphics came in from the project team – two “sections” of the site plus a more-detailed site plan – see that all in this PDF.)
Not counting the project team, about 20 people were on hand to hear an often-enthusiastic presentation. “It seems strange to be an architect and be jazzed about a project that doesn’t include a building,” acknowledged Dana Amore of Bassetti Architects.
When it’s done, as shown in the rendering, there’ll be six tennis courts, a synthetic-turf softball field on the southeast side of the site, and a large open grass field where the main school building stood (and where a new elementary school might be built someday), While the rendering on an easel at last night’s meeting labeled the big grass field as “soccer field,” project reps said it would not be striped or scheduled as such. They also reiterated that the only lighting on the site will be 12-foot-pole lights for the walking paths – no lighting for the tennis courts, no lighting for the softball field.
As those who had worked through the project as community members knew – that’s what had been discussed. (The rendering shown at the meeting doesn’t show the lighting plans, though, and they asked to see something specific; there are more details in the third part of the PDF we received this morning.)
Other components to be added to the site include playground equipment on the southwest corner (though no images or description of the specific equipment was available at the meeting), picnic tables and seating, and wheelchair/bicycle/stroller-accessible paths through the site.
One new bit of information: Of the 62 trees on the site now, 37 will be removed, 25 will remain. Project managers say they are replacing the removed trees “on a 3-to-1 basis” – planning to plant 126 new ones.
Along SW Thistle, on the north side of the site, red oak will be planted – described at the meeting as a “big, stately tree.” Along 30th, now the front side of Denny, “smaller, informal, delicate” trees such as stewartia will be planted, and the neighborhood “will be able to see into the big, open field.” Along Cloverdale, sweet-gum trees “to provide shading.”
Scott Baker of Tree Solutions answered tree-related questions, including noting that they are working to save the “amazing cherry tree in front of the school” and a Douglas fir on a corner. “We’re trying to keep trees that will really thrive over time,” he said, although he observed that some of the tree-saving that’s planned is “bold,” including trees “in mixed condition” in the lower Denny courtyard, and a garden that was planted by a teacher on the southwest side of the current campus. Melo brought up the tree-cutting on the east side of the Sealth/Denny campus in 2008 that was not supposed to have happened, and Baker said that while he wasn’t involved with that project, all precautions were being taken to protect the to-be-saved trees identified on this one (including metal tags, and wood-chip mulch around their root areas).
The grass and trees will provide a major change in the nature of the site, it also was pointed out – what is currently 63 percent paved over (4 of the site’s 7 acres), will become 75 percent unpaved. Even with drainage and grading changes, that means less water will come off the site, according to the project team.
The project is scheduled for completion in (or before) December, though the major part of the work is expected to be finished before October ends – hydroseeding of the grassy area is to be done by mid-October – with November/December for finishing touches. What happens between now and then? While the project team has provided some toplines previously, more logistics were revealed last night:
-Right after the last day of school on June 23rd, the school district will move out anything left in Denny that’s going to be taken to the new site, with the help of movers – Thursday afternoon and all day Friday/Saturday/Sunday.
-Monday, June 27, the project team takes control of the site and abatement work (asbestos etc. cleanup) begins. That will last a few weeks before demolition.
-Trucks will have access off Thistle and Cloverdale. Flaggers and spotters will be on site.
-A 6-foot construction fence will be up around the site to keep people from wandering in.
-Most of the truck activity should be done before next school year starts (avoiding major traffic complications). Truck tires will be washed before they leave the site, so that there’s not much dirt mucking up the surrounding neighborhood.
-Most work days, the hours will be 7 am-5 pm (except some interior abatement work may begin at 6, in basements and crawl spaces, where noise wouldn’t be generated). “Loud equipment” wouldn’t start till 8 am. Any Saturdays the crew works – they’re not expecting many – they would start at 9. “We don’t plan on doing night-shift work right now,” said BNBuilders‘ River Steenson, who facilitated the meeting.
-Neighbors voiced concerns about demolition and abatement spreading problems to nearby homes and the Community Center, from rats to toxins. All will be monitored, they were told. PBS Environmental had a rep at the meeting and discussed the air samples and other monitoring they will do, since an older school building like this is likely to have lead paint, fluorescent lights, even PCBs in some older electrical equipment, as well as the expected asbestos in roofing and flooring.
They will be testing for soil contamination once a tank is removed on the south side of the site, next to the building with the boiler’s smokestack. The tank is sited in a way that prevents drilling for sampling pre-removal, it was explained – “one of those great unknowns when you do construction work like this.” As for the rodent fears – there’s not much sign of “rodent activity,” according to the project team. One attendee wasn’t entirely reassured: “I teach at a school on Mercer Island, and WE have rats.”
-How the five Denny buildings will be torn down: “Crushed up,” is how Steenson put it. Excavator equipment with “jaws” and/or “buckets” will be deployed, starting at the top of buildings and “nibbling” on down. The music building and gym will be torn down first.
-What will be done with the debris: Concern was voiced about this – as it had been a topic during the Design Team meetings as well. The art tiles and memorial plaques will be taken to the new Denny site, said Bassetti’s Amore; Steenson mentioned Second Use coming in “to see if there’s anything salvageable.” He said Denny principal Jeff Clark has a list of what else is being saved. A school-district rep said an archivist has gone through the building, too.
-What will the parking rules be along 30th SW (where it’s currently restricted for school-bus use, etc.) when the project’s over? The team didn’t know.
-Will any part of the finished site be locked? Susan McLain, another community member involved in the Design Team phase, asked the question. This is a big issue for Westwood residents, who say the Southwest Athletic Complex’s sprawling site was supposed to be much more accessible for people to walk through to get to the shopping center and points beyond. They were told last night that there will not be gates. Even the tennis courts – remember, they won’t be lit – are there for the high school, but also for community use. Community members remained wary: “As taxpayers, we have invested many thousands of dollars with the school district with these plans, and as a community we are gun-shy still about what the district says they’ll do and what they’ll do in the end,” Quackenbush explained.
Last but not least, explaining our headline – an attendee asked if the site would have a name. Answer: No, it’s school district property and will be treated as part of Southwest Athletic Complex – the district doesn’t usually name facilities like this. “So, the park with no name,” someone said.
NEXT STEPS: In addition to the timeline laid out above, with moving work beginning the afternoon of June 23 and abatement work starting Monday, June 27, a project sign will go up shortly, Steenson said, providing contact information so the neighborhood knows who to call if they need to refer to that kind of info in a hurry. (A hotline, 206-252-0669, was also mentioned.) And in the very long run, about that possible new elementary school – Nothing on the schedule, no timeline, no budgeted money, it’s just land being held in reserve (like the district’s vacant school buildings at Boren, Genesee Hill, and Fairmount Park, though as we reported here recently, the latter may be reopened as soon as fall 2012).
Our 4-year archive of Denny/Sealth project coverage is here, newest to oldest.