By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though the vote on the Seattle Public Schools BEX IV construction-project levy isn’t until February, the process of planning one of its designated projects is under way now.
Last night, the Design Team for what’s for now known as the new Schmitz Park Elementary at Genesee Hill convened a “community conversation,” inviting neighbors to come talk about ideas and concerns. The school will be built on the site where the closed Genesee Hill Elementary now stands; it was long home to Pathfinder K-8 until that school moved into what had been Cooper Elementary on Pigeon Point in fall 2009, as part of the school-closure plan that shuttered GH permanently.
Providing that BEX IV (finalized November 7th) wins voter approval, the new school is scheduled to open at the Genesee Hill site in fall 2015. As projects of this size go, that’s a relatively short time frame, and that is why, the district has explained, the design process was convened even before the vote.
Design Teams are part of the SPS process of creating new school facilities – in a process explained here. They aren’t just for school buildings; a few years ago, we covered the Design Team convened to plan the future of the site that used to hold Denny International Middle School, now park, playground, and sports facilities considered to be part of the district-owned Southwest Athletic Complex.
District spokesperson Tom Redman tells WSB that the early design work for the new Genesee Hill school is being “paid for by unspent funds from BEX III and BTA III capital levies.” The firm chosen to do the design is BLRB, as approved by the School Board recently.
The Design Team, meantime, includes community volunteers as well as staffers and consultants. Janet Donelson and Tom Bates were coordinating last night’s meeting. Bates is from BLRB Architects, with whom the district has contracted to design the new school, which could hold up to 650 students.
We dropped by last night’s meeting about midway through. Participants were talking about traffic concerns and how the new school should address them – speeding cars are a problem on Genesee Hill itself, for example. Bates reassured them that the city process will include a traffic study, which will address other issues including how to get students across the street. Sustainability and environmental design were asked about, too; that’s in the state’s requirement for public-school buildings, Donelson and Bates pointed out.
From notes taken during community discussion throughout the meeting, these are other points of concern:
*School design needs to reflect the neighborhood; building areas that face out to the neighborhood should not look like “blank walls”
*Existing plants/landscaping should be preserved if possible, but if removed, it’s important that landscape design reflect the neighborhood
*Public outreach is vital, to reach other schools’ PTAs/PTSAs and organizations such as the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council, Hiawatha Community Center Advisory Council, West Seattle Junction Association
WHAT’S NEXT: The next public meeting at which you can offer comments and ideas is with the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council on December 13th – watch the GSNC website for more details. (The future of the school site has been one of that group’s signature issues since its founding more than two years ago.)