The sticky-note school of design: Denny site meeting tonight

November 3, 2008 11:56 pm
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 |   Denny-Sealth | West Seattle news | West Seattle schools

All those sticky notes, and dozens more, represent the latest progress toward figuring out what will happen at the Denny Middle School site after the new school opens on the Chief Sealth campus. Even though that’s more than two years away, Seattle Public Schools managers want a final design in place within the next few months, and that’s why Design Team meetings are under way. Last time, we reported on a meeting for which few showed up; tonight, a better turnout, and as SPS manager Don Gillmore put it, this was the end of the “abstract” part of the process — read on for more on what happened and what’s next:

That’s how it looked in the Denny library toward meeting’s end, after the dozen-plus people on hand spent time in small groups addressing individual components of the plan. Soon, the sticky-note org chart on the big yellow sheet of papers will be converted into an actual document on somebody’s computer. And, promised Gillmore, “Next time we get together, we’re actually going to design something.”

The major criteria for whatever that “something” turns out to be are safety, diversity of use, open green space, tennis courts/softball fields to replace the ones being taken out at Chief Sealth to make room for Denny, positive image, and it all has to be something the School Board will approve. (As reported after previous meetings, selling the site is not an option because the district is reserving it for potential future use as a new elementary school.)

Like the last meeting, a fair amount of time was spent trying to remember and/or interpret what had been said or suggested at previous meetings. For example, area resident Susan McLain, who also had participated in Westwood Neighborhood Council discussions of hopes and dreams for the site, worried that a sticky note about tennis-court lights would be interpreted as wholehearted team support for such lights.

Project manager Robert Evans noted pragmatically that lights might not be such a bad idea, especially in the late fall and winter, when it gets dark in late afternoon, meaning that unlit courts would not have much usable after-school time for community members. However, he acknowledged, “What we have heard loud and clear is that what you guys don’t want are 40-, 60-foot pole lights that keep everybody awake. The ones we are replacing in kind have no lights, so if there is a strong-enough push to NOT have lights, then …”

“The district doesn’t care,” Gillmore interjected. “It would actually be better for us to NOT put them in,” because of cost.

However, in the next section of the meeting, some unobtrusive styles of park lighting drew interest from participants: This was the section where photos were shown from last week’s bus tour of several park sites that Design Team members were to visit in hopes of getting inspiration.

The most popular site seemed to be Judkins Park in the Central District, next to Washington Middle School and residential neighborhoods; its sprawling site is split among a variety of uses, even lawn bowling and a small “amphitheater” seating area.

One of the other sites visited was Ballard Commons, on the northwest side of the Ballard business district, but its heavy reliance on concrete was a source of concern.

After reviewing park-tour photos, it was on to small-group conversations to solidify concepts of how to implement the project’s goals, at which time Gillmore promised, “This is the last time we’re going to work abstractly – next time, we’re going to work on everything literally.”

Getting literal about the previously stated goals was a major aspect of tonight’s work. Requests included monthly progress reports once the project is under way, a low-maintenance drinking fountain that’s available all year, a covered shelter, outdoor exercise equipment that would also be accessible for seniors, paths to let pedestrians walk east-west and north-south, space for public art, and road improvements along nearby SW Thistle, to work with the different circumstances that will emerge when this

Participants are clearly ready to get busy with the next phase of design at the next meeting (7 pm 11/17, Denny library) — “I want something more concrete to look at,” Sandra Melo said.

Side note: Gillmore said the district is working on an improved website to track progress on this project, and promised to share its address as soon as possible – we’ll let you know when we get that.

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