By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The new Arbor Heights Elementary School will be built in two phases, project managers told community members last night, and remains on track for welcoming students on the first day of school in September 2016.
Not that long ago, principal Christy Collins reminded the ~40 attendees as the meeting began, the new school wasn’t slated to open until 2019. She’s been principal for three years, and that’s how long the discussion about a replacement school has been under way.
The school had been deteriorating since long before then, including, she recalled, climate-control problems that notoriously led to children wearing mittens in class. She spoke of the journey that led to an “environmentally friendly” design, “much greener than we presently have.” The new school, she said, will also be emblematic of an “environmental STEM school,” the curriculum that AHES is phasing in – “a school that is not only fiscally responsible but really honoring the children who will be coming through the school in the next 50 years.”
As Collins handed the meeting off to the rest of the project team, from the district and Bassetti Architects, the spectre of the recent challenge to the district’s “no formal environmental review needed” ruling, a challenge rejected by a district hearing examiner, was evident in some of their key points. Concerns remain, attendees were reminded before the meeting, when one of the appellants circulated a letter about continuing concerns regarding safety and traffic.
The meeting conditions were a little challenged – the projection screen on the stage in the school cafeteria was difficult to see in the early-evening sunshine blazing through the west-facing windows – but presenters attempted to improvise, removing renderings from easels on the side of the room and holding them up as supplementary visual aids.
From “guiding principles” of the school design, a key intent: “Safe, secure, welcoming,” with covered entries, as well as energy efficiency and features that “(enhance) the school’s role as a beacon for the community.” He spoke of evolving technology and research into best practices, so that the school could be modernized to work with advances in both those fields, and better maximizing the relatively small site, removing the central school building from its current sunken position – right now, there’s an 8-foot drop from street to school entrance, and it will be 3 feet after the new school is built.
(New site plan, above; aerial of current school, below)
The architects showed the school’s current placement on the site, with slopes at both ends, and a culvert that sends water coursing through its heart, noting that will be moved as part of the construction.
The bus loading and unloading will circulate on SW 105th. (Update: We are informed that statement made at the meeting was in error, and that the bus zone will be on 104th.)
Curbs on both 104th and 105th will be upgraded, she said, and – in response to a question – added that the upgrades include sidewalks along both sides of the school, as required by the city – storm drainage improvements and street-tree addition, too.
The main floor of the school building will be connected to 105th, they said. There will be good daylighting into the classrooms, with north-south windows. There will be a learning commons with all classrooms having access.
They showed the exterior of the new school from various perspectives. The library will serve as a “beacon” with lights – visible from the northeast – saying the school’s open. The three-story section of the school will be visible from the southwest, the “learning” portion of the school.
On the southwest side, there is a “child care” area with classrooms above. This school is currently planned to be built to the 490-student option but a final decision will be made early next year about whether to build it instead for the potential of housing up to 660 students.
The district decided to build the core facilities for its new elementaries to handle that many students, but isn’t necessarily starting off with classrooms for that many. (The new Genesee Hill school is one that will be at the maximum size from the start – not surprising given that enrollment is expected to pass 600 next year at Schmitz Park Elementary, whose program will move to the new GH.)
Enrollment projections will be consulted early next year to make a final decision – district capital-projects senior manager Lucy Morello said the bids will be solicited with both options. In a conversation after the meeting, she even mentioned a sort of third option – the shell could be built to the 660-student size, with interior work to be left to be done later if needed. A persistent rumor about a potential larger school representing a way to co-house Roxhill Elementary was dismissed by Morello, saying that the community was “heard loud and clear” when it vehemently opposed the merger idea a few years ago. Possible factors in the need for more space could include, it was mentioned, upcoming ballot measures for universal preschool and smaller class sizes.
There was also an aerial view showing skylights that would be the best way to get a lot of light into the school. On the north side, the building will be less than a foot higher than the current building; the three-story section will be 15 feet above the roofline of the current one, on the south side.
The construction is planned in two phases, later explained as the result of the project having moved up this far in the timeline – they needed to start the abatement this summer, so, while the first phase of work is under way, permits will be sought for the second phase.
The first phase will begin this summer, the second phase – the bulk of the work – next March. Here’s the timeline shown at the meeting:
Bid opening Phase 1 award, July (bids will be opened next week)
School moveout, June 23-July 7
Phase 1 Contractor Mobilization, July 8
Demolition/Civil Work, August-November
Bid Opening Phase II Award, February 2015
Phase II Contractor Mobilization/Start, March 2015
Phase II Completion, May 2016
Start of School, September 2016
So, if the schedule goes as planned, there will be a break in work between November and March.
They expect to work Mondays-Saturdays, with a 7 am start on weekdays, 9 am start on Saturdays. A third-party consultant will be observing during the abatement phase, which will be done in a “closed, pressurized space,” to avoid any exposure beyond that space.
Other questions included traffic – as surfaced during the appeal hearing, the potential confluence of traffic between the relocated Westside School (at 34th and 104th, just three blocks away) and the new Arbor Heights is a concern. Morello said that they’ll be working with SPS Transportation to look at an “access management/traffic management plan,” in conjunction with Westside, which will open a year earlier than the new Arbor Heights. They’re meeting this week, in fact, she said; shifting start/dismissal times could be an option.
Lemay noted that the site includes 55 parking spaces, 50 more than it has now, which is supposed to help alleviate concerns about staff parking offsite. Particular age groups and programs will have particular dropoffs on 105th and 104th, though the project team acknowledged that it will be challenging “to train the parents.”
The meeting overall was cordial, with the only hint of discord being one resident asking how he would get relief from an already-potholed street that now would likely be traversed by heavy truck traffic.
SIDE NOTES: In its final weeks in the old building, Arbor Heights has two big events ahead, to which the entire community is invited – its carnival this Saturday, June 7th (details here) and a “goodbye” event one week from tonight (Tuesday, June 10th) – details here.
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