New Schmitz Park Elementary at Genesee Hill: Design under way, before full funding finalized

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Though the vote on the Seattle Public Schools BEX IV construction-project levy isn’t until February, the process of planning one of its designated projects is under way now.

Last night, the Design Team for what’s for now known as the new Schmitz Park Elementary at Genesee Hill convened a “community conversation,” inviting neighbors to come talk about ideas and concerns. The school will be built on the site where the closed Genesee Hill Elementary now stands; it was long home to Pathfinder K-8 until that school moved into what had been Cooper Elementary on Pigeon Point in fall 2009, as part of the school-closure plan that shuttered GH permanently.

Providing that BEX IV (finalized November 7th) wins voter approval, the new school is scheduled to open at the Genesee Hill site in fall 2015. As projects of this size go, that’s a relatively short time frame, and that is why, the district has explained, the design process was convened even before the vote.

Design Teams are part of the SPS process of creating new school facilities – in a process explained here. They aren’t just for school buildings; a few years ago, we covered the Design Team convened to plan the future of the site that used to hold Denny International Middle School, now park, playground, and sports facilities considered to be part of the district-owned Southwest Athletic Complex.

District spokesperson Tom Redman tells WSB that the early design work for the new Genesee Hill school is being “paid for by unspent funds from BEX III and BTA III capital levies.” The firm chosen to do the design is BLRB, as approved by the School Board recently.

The Design Team, meantime, includes community volunteers as well as staffers and consultants. Janet Donelson and Tom Bates were coordinating last night’s meeting. Bates is from BLRB Architects, with whom the district has contracted to design the new school, which could hold up to 650 students.

We dropped by last night’s meeting about midway through. Participants were talking about traffic concerns and how the new school should address them – speeding cars are a problem on Genesee Hill itself, for example. Bates reassured them that the city process will include a traffic study, which will address other issues including how to get students across the street. Sustainability and environmental design were asked about, too; that’s in the state’s requirement for public-school buildings, Donelson and Bates pointed out.

From notes taken during community discussion throughout the meeting, these are other points of concern:

*School design needs to reflect the neighborhood; building areas that face out to the neighborhood should not look like “blank walls”

*Existing plants/landscaping should be preserved if possible, but if removed, it’s important that landscape design reflect the neighborhood

*Public outreach is vital, to reach other schools’ PTAs/PTSAs and organizations such as the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council, Hiawatha Community Center Advisory Council, West Seattle Junction Association

WHAT’S NEXT: The next public meeting at which you can offer comments and ideas is with the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council on December 13th – watch the GSNC website for more details. (The future of the school site has been one of that group’s signature issues since its founding more than two years ago.)

11 Replies to "New Schmitz Park Elementary at Genesee Hill: Design under way, before full funding finalized"

  • happy November 20, 2012 (2:35 pm)

    Ya know, if we made the district people change offices as often as they make the teachers/students change schools, I would bet that there would be a different level of action here.

    Better yet, how about switching the district offices from their buildings into some of the schools, and moving the schools — er, sorry, “programs”– into those buildings? Let the kids and teachers have safe water, technology, sprinklers, heat, etc., and see how the high-ups fare. Bet things would be very, very different!

  • Jack Loblaw November 20, 2012 (7:42 pm)

    We will be voting no to stop funding for this until the district gives up on moving the Schmitz Park name. It is the same as some carpet bagging politician deciding to name West Seattle Magnolia. The only voice we have is to vote no and stop funding.

  • mike November 20, 2012 (8:37 pm)

    Put the district heads in portable offices in a playground

  • Dano November 20, 2012 (9:01 pm)

    There is something wierd going on here…. There is no good reason to change the name of a school built on the current Schmitz Park site… I want to know what is going on “behind the scenes”…. Build the new school…. But KEEP the name…. What is wrong with THAT idea? It almost smacks of something political or financial coming into play…. Which is just plain wrong. It seems condescending to the Schmitz Park community to move them to another site so some other program could move into what has always been their identified home. I work for Seattle schools…. And it frustrates me that they often make decisions without authentically doing what the community of tax payers wants…… Wake up SPS…. People are going to vote NO….. And then we ALL lose.

  • Bonnie November 21, 2012 (7:31 am)

    I find it ridiculous that people will vote no only because of a name change. That is just crazy. Vote no for good reasons if you’re going to vote no. Vote no because SPS can’t make a good decision if their lives depended on it…not because of a name change. That is just silly. I understand people being upset over it but it’s not a reason to withhold funding for our children.

  • Minority vote November 21, 2012 (7:43 am)

    I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I think it’s a shame to tear down Genesee school. Those 1950’s schools have a nice, solid look to them – and I particularly like Genesee’s details (the Auditorium entrance and the southern bay window)

    I know the older buildings are problematic, but if we can gut and restore King Street Station, why not at least use the shell of the older school buildings?

    And the new schools look so simple-minded. Just like with the majority of the new libraries, Architectural whimsy trumps functionality.

  • Mike November 21, 2012 (8:31 am)

    Minority vote, King St. Station was/is a $50 million restoration. Where are you getting the funding to restore a school, which would need to be reinforced for earthquakes too?

  • Public School Advocate November 21, 2012 (9:32 am)

    I wonder how much “left over” monies from BEX III and BTA III are still available. While I can understand the need for early planning, etc…it does appear to be putting the cart before the horse. This project in particular is creating controversy within the community and hope that it doesn’t overshadow other pressing needs within West Seattle e.g. Arbor Heights and the rest of Seattle. While we all might not like the “full package” and timelines SPS is proposing, it’s still vital that this levy PASS or else we will find ourselves in an even more dire situation.
    Also, if you think of Schmitz Park Elementary as a brand it’s the Schmitz Park brand SPS wants to grow by providing them with a bigger, newer facility. They know they have good brand traction and by re-opening Genesse Hill as Genesse Hill it would limit the growth of the Schmitz Park brand. This is why every “school” in SPS is really just a “program”.

  • Minority vote November 21, 2012 (9:34 am)

    Mike, if you had read my comment, you would have noted that I suggested re-using the shell, or even just the facade. That has been done at several locations here in Seattle.

    But I suppose we’ll settle for some vanity design that is expensive to maintain and will look dated in ten years. That’s the Seattle way, after all.

  • Helen November 21, 2012 (7:53 pm)

    Minority Vote- As a public school educator having taught in buildings in Seattle both old and new, I can say that the designs and floor plans of older schools, though they may be visually pleasing and may seem historically significant, do not support the way we educate children today. So when you take this into consideration, along with the cost of restructuring and retrofitting and old building, it does not make good fiscal sense to “save” the current building. Currently, there is not enough money in the district’s budget to even provide the appropriate curriculum to meet the new Common Core learning standards which are slowly but surely becoming mandatory over the next few years.

  • Minority vote November 21, 2012 (10:30 pm)

    Helen, with all due respect, I hope this was just a momentary lapse in reading comprehension on your part ;-)

    I did NOT say we should keep the existing floor plans. I’m just suggesting something along the lines of what was done at Franklin, Garfield, and to a certain extent Cleveland: Keep the facade, fix and/or expand the inside.

    Genesee is a handsome building that fits the character of the neighborhood. Why not work with it’s basic lines? That’s all I’m saying.

Sorry, comment time is over.