With Chief Sealth High School ready to move into Boren (WSB photo above, from 7/4), renovation work at Sealth is kicking into high gear, in the first phase of the process to combine the campuses of Sealth and nearby Denny Middle School. Last night, the Westwood Neighborhood Council got the latest on the project and also dove deeper into discussion of what will happen to the Denny site once the old school is demolished. Local journalist David Preston covered the meeting for WSB – read on for his report:
By David Preston
West Seattle Blog contributing journalist
Ten poster-sized artistâ€™s renditions of the combined Chief Sealth High/Denny Middle School project greeted attendees at last nightâ€™s Westwood Neighborhood Council (WNC) meeting, which took place at the Southwest Precinct on Delridge. The posters were there, along with a professional-looking scale model and color-coded timeline, to help residents get a feel for the changes that will begin happening on the Chief Sealth property soon. Work will get underway on the Sealth interior updates as early as next week, according to project manager Robert Evans.
Evans was one of some half-dozen Seattle Public Schools Facilities Department representatives attending the meeting and spent an hour discussing the artistâ€™s renditions and helping the audience of area neighbors visualize how the project will look when itâ€™s finished. Also in attendance were Sealth principal John Boyd and a representative of the DKA architectural firm, which is designing the project, as well as ten Westwood area parents and neighbors.
From this observer’s standpoint, the future looks pretty dreamy for some aspects of the Sealth/Denny project. For starters things will be greening up â€“ especially for the new Denny. Along with earth-toned building colors, there will be tree-lined walkways, expanded bicycle facilities, a â€œrain gardenâ€ parking lot with permeable concrete, a grass-covered roof over one part of the building and a butterfly roof on the other. (Taxpayer Note: the butterfly design is for channeling storm water runoff, not raising butterflies.) There will also be a plaza-like â€œgalleriaâ€ of shared space between the two schools, expanded walkways and open spaces. Lots and lots of open spaces â€“ all surrounded by relatively tall classroom buildings. (The roofline for the new three-story Denny, for example, will be 50 feet.)
The open-space design is for security, not just aesthetics, according to Evans. â€œWe designed this for lots of â€˜line of sightâ€™ and â€˜eyes onâ€™,â€ he emphasized. Itâ€™s to allow security staff to easily monitor any part of the property, especially the spaces in between, where large numbers of students from both schools might gather. â€œBell and lunch schedules will have to be worked out so we donâ€™t have too many students in those places at the same time,â€ Evans said. â€œThere will also be a 10-to-12-foot-high movable partition that separates Sealth and Denny.â€ He stressed the word â€œmovable,â€ adding that there would be times when the partition could be moved aside so combined student gatherings or community events could be held there.
But generally, the idea is to keep students from â€œco-minglingâ€ too much, and this idea was brought out repeatedly in the discussion between Evans and neighbors, who were concerned about how traffic â€“ both pedestrian and automotive â€“ would flow in and around the new facility. Much planning has been devoted keeping parking lots, walkways and entrances to the two schools separate, as can easily be seen in the sketches and models of the project.
Some lighting and landscaping changes are in store as well, and the new Sealth/Denny will be more open and visible to the surrounding community at night as well as during the day. Which raises the question of curb appeal. Steven Fischer of the WNC worried that the 53-foot-high flat brown walls on the east side of Denny would present the neighbors with an uninspiring view, and several people agreed. When Fischer asked why there were no windows on that side of the building, the architect explained that this design was used to channel natural light into the classrooms more efficiently. However, Evans and his boss, Don Gilmore, assured the group that they would look into alternative designs and surfaces for the east wall of Denny. (Perhaps a mural?)
Evans told the group that outdoor security cameras will be installed on site and operating continuously as soon as the work begins on Sealth. â€œI like security cameras!â€ Sealth principal Boyd said enthusiastically.
â€œWe want to get that information [about the cameras] out there in the community, so please pass that along,â€ Evans added. â€œWe want people to report graffiti too, and there will be a telephone hotline for that. The hotline will also have updated information about the project.â€
For the future, Evans said that, along with the hotline, there will be quarterly newsletters and regular updates to the project website, and said neighbors will be apprised via door hangers and flyers about any construction work that might affect them. Principal Boyd said that Chief Sealthâ€™s website would also feature regular project updates. In addition, kiosks will be installed, one each at Denny, Chief Sealth and possibly at Boren, which is where Chief Sealth students will attend school through June of 2010. The city Transportation Department (SDOT) will conduct separate public meetings regarding speed bumps, bus lanes and any other traffic-related changes needed to accommodate the project.
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of what will become of the Denny Middle School property once it is vacated and the existing school is torn down; here’s the concept drawing WNC released last month (click the image to see a larger version):
At last night’s meeting, WNC president Fischer unveiled a flipchart-sized â€œconcept boardâ€ detailing several suggestions the group had worked out in previous meetings. â€œFor Education, Recreation and Open Spaces,â€ was the theme.
Possibilities included an expansion of the existing Southwest Community Center, new tennis courts (to replace the ones lost in the Chief Sealth upgrade), better stairways, an â€œinformal amphitheatre,â€ more green space, a skate park and even a small off-leash dog park.
Council member Susan McLain said â€œWe want something [at the Denny site] that serves neighbors, students and the community at large.â€
â€œWeâ€™re looking for increased connectivity for the neighborhood,â€ Fischer added. However, he stressed that the concept board was just that â€“ a set of concepts â€“ and would still need to be shopped around the community and discussed at one or more public meetings before any plans could be submitted to the school district. â€œBut getting the word out is what the Neighborhood Council is for,â€ he said.
The district intends continue owning and maintaining the old Denny property, regardless of how it is developed. Project manager Gilmore noted that the Seattle Parks Department, which controls the adjacent ball fields and some of the other Denny-area property as well, would also need to be consulted and that any final plans should identify funding sources for the requested improvements.
When one resident wondered why there was so much concern to make sure the school district folks were getting the message, several veteran members responded that their opinions had either not been solicited or had been ignored by the district in the past. They pointed to the 9-foot tall and forbidding black fence around the new athletic fields to the south of Sealth, and the gates which are often locked, preventing the neighborhood from using the space, or traveling across it. These, they said, were the result of their opinions not being respected in the past, and they wanted to see a change.
From what I could tell, that change was well under way.
The meeting ended with the group deciding by consensus to meet again at the Southwest Precinct on August 12. WNC leaders say West Seattle’s School Board member Steve Sundquist will be invited to attend that meeting, along with Seattle Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher and Southwest Precinct Captain Joe Kessler.
This is David Preston’s first story for WSB. All of our Denny/Sealth coverage is archived here.
| 15 COMMENTS