A preferred “schematic design” was revealed last night for what is now going by the working title of the “new elementary school at Genesee Hill,” rather than “the new Schmitz Park Elementary at Genesee Hill,” according to project manager Janet Donelson.
The design was shown to about 20 community members in the Schmitz Park cafeteria, exactly three weeks before the February 12th election in which Seattle voters will decide whether to approve the Seattle Public Schools BEX (Building Excellence) IV levy that will generate the property-tax dollars for this $38 million project and others around the city.
As Donelson explained at the start of the meeting, the district provided some advance money to get the design work under way – since getting a new school open by fall 2015 would be impossible if they waited till after the election to start; a community advisory team has been working since last fall.
Ahead, four more views from last night’s presentation led by BLRB Architects, and what happens next:
While stressing that the design is “still really malleable” and in its “infancy,” the project team nonetheless also repeatedly stressed that this is the design concept with which the advisory committee had just decided to move forward. Note that these are not architecturally fleshed-out renderings, but rather deal with “massing” – size and shape – and placement of features on the site. Above, the green playfield would be where most of the current, to-be-demolished Genesee Hill Elementary is now, on the southwest side of the site. In the next view, with the north side of the site along SW Dakota in the foreground, the red structures are the main facilities, while the blue in the distance represents the classroom wing, with pods of 4 classrooms (“small learning communities”) clustered around potential shared-activity spaces for occasional team-teaching, and outdoor access that could facilitate outdoor learning. There also would be a flexible classroom with a movable wall that could be used to create smaller spaces. The east side of the building would “engage” with the hillside, with the inside hallways more like bridges over it.
The building will be built to accommodate about 650 students, with an alternate to downsize it to 500 students if the costs are “way over,” it was explained. A floor plan was shown too, with a “community living room” near the entrance on the north, with a stairway to the library on the 2nd level. A dance studio and instrumental music area would be nearby, and then, a bit further south, a student dining hall connecting to a gym. The center of that main building would include a “multi-use space” usable for math and science among other things.
Staff parking would be where the playfield is now, on the southeast side of the site, but set as far west into a slope as possible.
The dramatic grade change on the site – 35 feet from the current building down to that current field site – is one factor the project team says it’s been working with. The design principles were described as including “really fit(ting) into the challenging site” where Genesee Hill Elementary now sits, and being “timeless” as well as serving as a “community resource … not just a place of learning … to be a community center, to allow for community access onto the site, to use as a park, if you will,” plus “to be sustainable … good steward of taxpayer dollars and good steward of our environment.”
On the second floor, the library would be located in a way that would take advantage of the Mount Rainier and territorial views from that location.” Donelson said that the preferred scheme, even with some two-story buildings, would still allow nearby neighbors to maintain their views.
After discussing the details of the “preferred scheme,” there was some Q/A.
One attendee had high praise for the concept, saying she could see herself and her child “interacting with the building” and that it would be more pleasant not to see the parking lot in a prominent spot along SW Genesee. One neighbor said that while she would be losing a “park in (her) backyard” because of the parking lot replacing the current southeast playfield, keeping the trees was a positive move. (The parking lot will be pushed as far west into the hillside as possible, the architects later added.)
Another attendee wondered about the grade change from the driveway on the site that would go along most of 51st (the site’s west side) and then part of Dakota with entrance/exits on each of those streets. It would be one way from 51st northeast to Dakota. The 51st side would only be used at the start and end of the school day.
“Could it be a hardscape play surface during the day?” someone wondered. Maybe, was the reply.
WHAT’S NEXT: The project team and advisory committee will continue working with this design concept, warning that “we’ve got a long road ahead of us.” And more community meetings are ahead – including another one “within a month or two” that will flesh out the design with more architectural details. No date yet. “Please come and voice your opinions if you can,” those in attendance were exhorted. The timeline as currently envisioned calls for going out to bid in spring 2014, followed immediately by construction, which they hope would be done “by the end of 2015.” There is no website for the project yet.
(The Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council also will continue focusing on the site’s current and future status and programs; its members and other neighbors have worked hard in the past few years to make sure the site has continued to play a role in the neighborhood, with community gardens on its west side, among other projects.)