By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As the recommended design for the new Arbor Heights Elementary School made its public debut last night, the community Q/A expanded beyond the facility’s look and layout.
AH principal Christy Collins reassured the community that, although the school is moving toward an “eSTEM” (environment, science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum, it will remain a neighborhood school. And, Collins said, the new facility will even better serve the school’s role as a “community cornerstone” in Arbor Heights.
Also: While there are still School Board formalities ahead, district reps reiterated that the project remains on its accelerated timeline, with AH scheduled to move to temporary quarters at Boren right after the coming school year, so construction work can get going.
Now, as for the design, here’s how the presentation unfolded:
First, a note – just as we finished writing this story, we received a copy of the entire PowerPoint from the district, so we’ll add more images here later – or you can see it here for yourself (PDF).
Coordinating last night’s meeting, Seattle Public Schools‘ Tom Redman declared, “You’ve got the best team we have,” introducing both district reps led by Lucy Morello, who will serve as senior project manager, and construction manager Kurt Trester, along with Bassetti Architects‘ Caroline LeMay and Ross Parker.
Principal Collins thanked the community for its support of the BEX-IV Levy that’s making the new school possible. “I’m eternally grateful that you thought about our kids and their needs.” She stressed that the project is, and would continue to be, “fiscally responsible.” She said she meets by phone with the project team at least once a week.
From the district, the project toplines:
*$40 million project, including not just the building but new playfields, playground, landscaping, as well as costs from demolition to furnishings.
*The new Arbor Heights Elementary will be a “490/650 school”- building a 490-seat school with a 650-seat “core,” elements such as cafeteria and gym big enough to support that many students if the classroom capacity was expanded, as could happen either during the construction process or years in the future.
*Current phase: Moving into schematic design, with construction starting at the end of the 2013-2014 school year
*16-member School Design Advisory Team (see its membership and notes of its meetings here) has been working with “the (community’s) vision and goals for the building and curriculum” as well as the district’s basic requirements/specs. Trester explained, “We ran the gamut of what is possible on the site … and landed on one that is our recommendation today.”
The principles with which the design was crafted were listed as including:
*Safe, secure, welcoming
*Responds to need of eSTEM program
*Exterior spaces supporting learning (garden spaces to be provided, for example)
*Offer teaching and operational flexibility
*Energy-efficient building (“a lot of sustainability features,” meeting the WSSP – Washington Sustainable School Protocol – the equivalent of LEED silver; small building footprint and tight envelope, plus orienting the school for “really great daylighting” in classrooms)
*Enhances the school’s role as a beacon for the community
*Durable and easy to maintain
*Building fits in and is respectful of the AH neighborhood, “reconnecting the school to the community by recreating the natural grade of the site – the natural slope that connects from 105th to 104th through the building”
Then – the unveiling of the design, led by Bassetti’s Parker, with these toplines!
*School building = 2 wings with connector
*Gym, lunchroom, library in north wing, a 2-story building
*Classrooms in south wing, 3 stories on its west end, 2 on its east end unless third story is added to get to 650-student capacity; building would include an “idea lab” as well as space for “learning communities” and a “commons”
*Main bus dropoff on 104th, “recognizing the school population is likely going to double and vehicular traffic is likely going to double”
*Parking lot with at least 66 spaces
*New curbs and gutters expected for entire frontage on 104th and 105th
*Covered space for bicycle storage between building and lot to east (room for 60 bikes, it was mentioned later)
*West end, new soft-surface playfield for softball and soccer and community use
*Topography addressed by scooping out southeast side, about 10 feet – leveling access from crosswalk into main entry of school –
“not going to export a lot of soil nor bring a lot in”
*Raising main school entrance so “you’re not dropping down 7 feet like you are now” (into the entry)
*Covered play area between buildings
*”Child care” area would have its own play area toward southeast side of site
*Special education would be in the middle of the south side of the south building
*Teaching gardens with raised beds on south side of site, where the south side of the classroom building can facilitate environmental/science studies
*Cafeteria or gym could be “zoned off” for afterhours event while keeping the rest of the school secure
A few landscaping points were discussed, including a “specimen tree” – likely a Garry Oak – by the entryway on the north side, and green screens in places – though some nervous laughter followed as the presenter mentioned “like the new fire station  on 35th SW, though there they are not growing well, we plan to do a much better job.” (Another architectural firm worked on that project.)
Again and again, the use of natural light was stressed – and “transparency” – a point brought home by the sunlight that blazed through the Arbor Heights lunchroom’s west-facing windows for most of the meeting, so bright that when School Design Advisory Team members were asked to stand, some were seen wearing sunglasses.
Overall, as was noted during the meeting, it was a laudable turnout for a summer night, and those on hand applauded as the 40-minute presentation concluded, with the meeting moving into Q/A, mostly from questions written on cards during the meeting and collected as it proceeded.
Three questions involved the eSTEM program – first, the one about whether Arbor Heights will remain a neighborhood school or become an option school like K-5 STEM at Boren. Collins stressed it would remain a neighborhood school, with the curriculum changing because “the environmental STEM program is what we believe to be the type of education that’s important for ALL students to have.” Collins also reminded attendees that arts teacher Laura Drake is coming on board. Students will “have fun,” she promises.
With the arts addition, will the curriculum be rechristened eSTEAM? one question is read. If the community thinks so, Collins replies.
Another question is about neighborhood bus routes. Too soon to say, she says. But “we will actually have parking on site,” unlike the current campus, she says. Zoning will require at least 66 spaces. They do want to encourage people to bike, she stressed, but “we do have to have parking on site.” And that will be available for community meetings. The special-education buses will go on 105th, she said.
Will there be central heating and cooling? The former is required, the latter is not, replied one team member – at least, not for all spaces. (Some have to be, such as the “child care” area.) But “the building is situated in a way” that won’t require much cooling, it was noted.
How long will construction last? 12 to 16 months. There’ll be a demolition/”early earth work” phase under one contract, then a construction phase in another contract, because of how the permit system works.
How will traffic be routed? They’ll work it out with SDOT but probably 35th to 104th.
One question asked for an explanation of the 490 to 650 capacity: If 490 students remains the goal, the south building would be three stories on its west side, two on its east side, and ready for a third story to be added in the future if needed. Snohomish High School is one facility in the region that was built that way, it was noted.
Would the rain garden be in danger of getting cut out of the budget? “We require a certain amount of stormwater collection to come through natural process via raingarden, something like that, rather than running it all into storm drains … We have to detain a certain amont on site – surface detention, through raingardens, is the (best) way to do that.”
Does the site have contaminated soils? he was asked. Yes, it’s acknowledged, because of the old oil tank that served the boilers “for years.” Within a week or two, some test wells will be placed around the tank to “monitor the level of toxicity of the soils.” If clean, no budget impact; if not, there is a contingency line for about $200,000 to handle it.
Break down the $40 million budget, another attendee requested: Construction costs about $28 million,
More information on where AH students will go during the construction phase: At Boren, which they’ve toured with principal Collins. 15 or 16 dedicated classrooms with computer lab, separate library, art lab, shared OT/PT with STEM.
ADA compliance for people with disabilities: “Every space in the school will be fully ADA compliant.”
What will the entrance be from 37th SW? Covered walwway will reach out; the aforementioned specimen tree will be there – like the school logo – by the point of entry.
What about daylighting the culvert that is undergrounded beneath the campus? They were initially excited about that prospect but it’s a budget challenge. They can’t afford to daylight it but will move it so it’s not under the school building. The raingarden will bring back a waterway to the site.
One comment/question complained the design looked too corporate – can it “look like a school”? The shape is pretty much settled but the materials, window shapes, etc., remain up for discussion – “we really are just starting that design,” said architect Parker.
What about data infrastructure? District technical standards will be followed for computer, telephones, etc.; the entire building will be fitted with wireless access points, described as the new district standard.
A suggestion that the school staff hadn’t had a say in the eSTEM curriculum choice, brought up at a School Board meeting a few months ago and also outlined in a handout circulated by district watchdog Chris Jackins (who was at the meeting), was addressed head-on by Collins. She said that perception was “partially correct.” She noted that the School Design Advisory Team included teachers and that as the early design work proceeded, “it became clear we needed to make decisions on design and how curriculum and design fit together to make a comprehensive program; it (also)became clear that we .. were heading in an (environmentally focused) direction (even before the decision); we were interested in a new-generation science program, a new math curriculum, had very active STEM-type inquiry-based happenings here at the school – salmon release, gardening, cooking, etc.” So, Collins continued, the SDAT asked her to speak to the district about the eSTEM possibility; she revealed that the district had been pondering a couple of other options for the campus, including, she said, a K-8 Mandarin Chinese option school “or maybe a behavior-intervention school.”
In the end, she said, they had to make a fast decision in design process “and we are moving forward” with eSTEM. Collins added, “There are many advantages to being a pioneer .. we have partnership with (the state) for next-generation science materials … the new math curriculum is coming to us at a very small cost …” And she concluded, “To be honest, it was a decision i made with our former director (departed SW executive director of schools Carmela Dellino) and I believe it’s in the best interest of our children.” But, she cautioned, the curriculum “will not be FULLY implemented until we move into our new building.”
Questions then continued: “How big is the school?” If 490 students, 77,000 square feet; if 650, 91,000 square feet.
“105th is such a narrow street – how can it handle increased traffic?” The team acknowledged it’s narrow but said it has more right-of-way than what’s currently paved, so it will be widened 10 to 12 feet, with curbs and sidewalks along most if not all the frontage.”
When the school is temporarily at Boren, what about those who walk to AH now, how will that be handled? Buses will be offered to all, Collins said.
What about Roxhill Elementary (once suggested as possibly co-housing with Arbor Heights)? it’s asked. District rep Morello said “At this point, I don’t know of any plans to change Roxhill or close it.”
Speaking of other schools, one attendee asked about Westside School coming to 34th and 104th, will that be taken up with SDOT?
Will the fields be booked by others? They envision that as a possibility, but Collins offers the qualifier that the field design will not be “regulation,” and the field will not be turf, so she doesn’t expect many bookings – “this is really not that kind of space … however, we are a public school, with your tax dollars” so there is “a system” and hierarchy for community programs to sign up to use the facility.
Now, as for the time frame of what happens next: Morello noted that the School Board still “has to approve accelerating some financing,” which is expected to happen next year. And if that is approved, she said, that would facilitate the schedule that would lead to the new school opening in fall of 2016.
If you have construction questions – you can contact Trester at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meantime, the district (update!) now has the PowerPoint available on its BEX-projects website – or, again, you can see it here now – with an Arbor Heights FAQ coming too; we’re hoping to add more visuals to this story later today, either from that presentation or from photos we took of renderings displayed last night on easels.