Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Two weeks from today, Seattle Public Schools will dedicate two new elementaries in West Seattle. We’ve already taken you inside the new Genesee Hill Elementary; now, our first look inside the new Arbor Heights Elementary.
This is the school that principal Christy Collins and families fought hard for. As recently as four years ago, Arbor Heights wasn’t scheduled for a rebuild until 2019 – despite the old school being in such bad shape, it even flooded without rain one day in 2013.
By then, the campaign had worked, and the BEX IV levy called for Arbor Heights’ rebuild to be complete this year, and now it is. This morning, district officials, school board members, and architects from Bassetti led a VIP tour of the new school. It incorporates the eSTEM philosophy – environment plus science, technology, math, engineering – that was announced by Collins in 2013. As we were shown during the tour, the school’s theme is “sea to sky,” and it’s incorporated inside and out. Like the new Genesee Hill, it’s awash in natural light, with windows and skylights throughout. Here’s a look around inside the cafeteria and stage area:
It’s also built to a capacity of about 660 students, though unlike its crosstown counterpart, it will not be near capacity at opening – more than 400 students are due here.
Arbor Heights, in honor of its tree-oriented name, is full of wood touches – not just bookcases, counters, and other built-in features, but also some of the art:
Out in the play area on the south side, there’s a zone dubbed the Dinosaur Garden – including features made from volcanic basalt.
It includes this wayfinding disc – with helpful distance info such as 53.9 miles to Mount Rainier, which can be seen from the school on less-hazy days.
Or seen inside the school, too:
A large covered play area is nearby, too, for those bad-weather days.
Even with temporary storage while the school setup is completed, it’s no comparison to the dark, unwelcoming one from the old school.
The school is environmentally savvy in more than its educational name – it includes huge cisterns and pervious pavement.
And some of its outdoor and indoor areas are meant for horticulture – something that was a theme long before Arbor Heights even officially went to eSTEM.
They’re also hoping that children will learn from the building itself – on the walls in the gym, the exposed X’s are seismic bracing meant to be a lesson of their own:
In comparison to the old Arbor Heights, which had Internet wiring set up by its staff in desperation, this one of course has 21st-century infrastructure, including pull-down power connections.
And while it has two “computer rooms,” to be used for testing, it has wi-fi throughout, so that students can move seamlessly throughout the campus with portable devices, and those computer rooms might someday be converted to regular classrooms.
If you look closely, you’ll find a remnant of the old amid the new – a section of the old Arbor Heights sign is sitting in the office, awaiting its new placement:
The ribbon-cutting for Arbor Heights Elementary, budgeted at $42.6 million, is scheduled for 11 am Tuesday, September 6th, the day before the first day of Seattle Public Schools classes for the 2016-2017 school year. The district tells us that invitations are going out to those who live nearby, too.
(We’ll be adding a few more photos later and some video from overview remarks given at the start of the tour.)
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