(Looking southward toward the new Westside School campus)
Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Two and a half years in the planning … seven weeks to “substantial completion” … one year after groundbreaking.
Westside School (WSB sponsor) moves into its new home in Arbor Heights this fall and is now showing off how it’s taken shape.
We toured the construction/renovation site this week with Westside’s head of school Kate Mulligan (above) and assistant head of school Don Cunningham, who has been the “owner’s rep” on the project. (They’re getting ready for an open house tomorrow at Westside’s current location – more on that later.)
Westside, founded in 1981, has been leasing the former EC Hughes Elementary in Sunrise Heights from Seattle Public Schools since 2010, moving there from a former Highline Public Schools building just east of Arbor Heights. So in many ways, this is, as Westside has dubbed the journey of building and moving, “Heading Home” (a theme that figured into its groundbreaking celebration almost exactly a year ago).
The process of transforming the former church – via Sundberg Kennedy Ly-Au Young Architects and general contractor Kirtley-Cole Associates LLC – brought unique opportunities. This wasn’t a teardown project – it’s a remodel and expansion, as is particularly notable from the outside of the former sanctuary, with “pop-out” added space like this:
“We’re excited to repurpose an under-utilized old building,” Mulligan enthuses. “Because (of that), we get a lot of elements a pre-K-8 school doesn’t usually get.”
That includes a gym – already part of the site – and a performing-arts center, which is on what was the choir-loft level and is now a full third level.
The transformation begins outside, where the project includes new sidewalks lining 104th and 34th.
Traffic will enter on 104th and route through the site southbound onto 34th. Queueing will happen on campus, not on the street. The campus has parking as well as an agreement with the New Apostolic Church to the south for overflow use when needed.
34th, on the west side of the campus – where dropoff and pickup will happen – is the street onto which Westside’s grand entrance and lobby are fronting.
Mulligan points out that everyone will come through that entrance.
For parents, it will have space to hang out and have coffee. It’ll be full of light, even on days that aren’t as bright as sunny Wednesday, when we toured.
The courtyard between the main and gym buildings is visible through east-facing windows.
Our tour moved on to the gym. “We use the gym all day, all night,” Mulligan points out, with Westside participating in the CYO league for four sports, which means it often plays other West Seattle schools such as Our Lady of Guadalupe and Holy Rosary.
The gym’s features – along with its “beautiful wood floor” – will include retractable stadium seating.
Beneath the gym is the lunchroom (and two connected art rooms).
As well as its interior features – including a five-unit handwashing station outside the bathrooms – its showcase point is connectedness to open air and open space, via garage-style roll-up doors on the east side that will be open as weather permits, a direct exit from lunch to playtime, with both a grassy area and hardscape outside.
It’s intended as a place where “kids feel safe and free, but secure,” Mulligan explains, “a place where they feel ownership.” Here’s a view from another part of the building, looking down toward the rollup doors’ exterior, and the future play area:
Taking advantage of natural light in as many places as possible, the first level is also home to the K-4 classrooms (accommodating Westside’s two classes per grade level) and added features including a reading nook with a bench and a whimsically round window – like the one in the stairwell shown below – as well as “idea spaces” outside classrooms, intended for collaboration.
The section of the floor with the least natural light is where they’re concentrating features that don’t need it – the ADA-compliant elevator, storage, etc.
As we peek into classrooms, Cunningham touts not only the utilization of natural light but the energy efficiency (the roof has solar panels too, by the way):
On the second (entry) level of the main building are the middle-school classrooms as well as features that other grades will share, a tech lab, with room for work on projects from robotics to film-making and more.
Elsewhere, a spacious area looking out to the west will serve as a student gallery, not just for artwork, but also for academic creations including writing and science:
Nearby, the library, adjacent to a conference room … and classrooms for Westside’s language curriculum, Mandarin and Spanish. And it’s in one of many sections of the building with overhead interest thanks to the shape of the original structure.
Then the crown jewel – the performing-arts center, also the space where Westside will be able to have all-school assemblies, accommodating what will be more than 400 members of the on-campus community (about 350 students and 60 staffers) by move-in time this fall.
Behind its huge stage is a music room, though Mulligan envisions some instruction happening on the stage as well. Some complementary uses are already in the works – the performing-arts center will be a boon to Sing Out Seattle!, which is already headquartered at Westside’s current campus.
It’s important to Westside that its students be the ones to inaugurate the new campus – that “ownership” mentioned earlier – so this year’s summer programs will be housed at the soon-to-be-ex-campus, even though they’re hoping to have the “certificate of occupancy” by mid-June, and to start moving in July.
ABOUT THAT OPEN HOUSE ... tomorrow (Saturday, April 25th), 10 am-noon, at the current campus, 7740 34th SW (map). Its main focus is the pre-K program, but Mulligan stressed that all are welcome. (Westside will serve preK through 8th grade when its middle-school phase-in concludes in fall 2016.) You can find out more about Westside by perusing its extensive blog-format “Inside Westside School” website here. It includes a section about the new campus, where you’ll also find this video:
SIDE NOTES: The church that sold Westside the building in its own downsizing move is now Living Hope Presbyterian, located close to where Westside used to be. Mulligan says the relationship has been friendly – church members will be invited to come see the new school when the project is complete, and they invited her to their final service at what’s almost complete as Westside’s home. … As for the ex-EC Hughes building that’s been housing Westside – Seattle Public Schools’ current plan is to use it as an emergency/interim building, as it had been before Westside leased it. … While Arbor Heights will have three newly built/remodeled schools within a few blocks by 2016 , Westside will be the only one open this fall, as the reconstructed Arbor Heights Elementary and the planned charter school at 35th/Roxbury aren’t scheduled to open before fall 2016.