See inside new Arbor Heights Elementary, with ‘sea to sky’ theme


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.)

19 Replies to "See inside new Arbor Heights Elementary, with 'sea to sky' theme"

  • S August 23, 2016 (1:42 pm)

    Looks good, cant wait to see it.  Wish they would send out teacher assignments. 

  • Seattle parent August 23, 2016 (2:09 pm)

    What a beautiful school!  Congratulations, Arbor Heights!

  • AmandaKH August 23, 2016 (2:22 pm)

    While I am so happy for AH students, my heart breaks for Roxhill, less than a mile away. The playground is so cracked and dangerous, the kids aren’t allowed to run on it. The kids went without drinking water several times this past year as the water was brown. There are rats on the indoor play area, no fire suppression system and its right on Roxbury. There is no PTA to push for anything else, and we are at the mercy of possibly moving the program out of boundary to EC Hughes, a 1914 building. Poor kids are constantly reminded they are just not as important as their counterparts. 

    • Bonnie August 23, 2016 (3:32 pm)

      I’m so sorry Amanda and I know what you mean.  It’s not fair.  All schools should be as beautiful as Arbor Heights and Genesee Hill.  No child should have to learn in an inferior environment.  We did fight hard for our AH building (although my kids are not there anymore, they have moved on) and I am thrilled that we have such a wonderful school in our neighborhood it is upsetting that the district is not addressing the issue at Roxhill very well.  The Roxhill children ARE just as important as the Arbor Heights children.  

    • Polly August 23, 2016 (4:31 pm)

      AH looks large enough to house several schools, why not Roxhill,  

    • TeriJ August 23, 2016 (8:39 pm)

      EC Hughes opened 1926… Yes, still very old. I went there in the 1960’s. Went back to visit in 2006 and was surprised to see how clean it was. 

    • mwmw August 23, 2016 (11:02 pm)

      What can PTA do to make changes? First time parents here with SPS. 

  • Alison August 23, 2016 (3:43 pm)

    Student assignments have never been out this early. Teachers don’t even have class lists yet. The lists are constantly being updated with kids who leave and kids who are new. All classes need to be as balanced as possible. You’ll find out soon enough! 

  • Darren August 23, 2016 (4:27 pm)

    I live across the street from it. It is very nice. Glad the construction is pretty much done.  I saw you out.there

  • Pam August 23, 2016 (5:57 pm)

    As a former student and employee of Arbor Heights,  what an exciting time.  I love this new building!

  • JE August 23, 2016 (7:23 pm)

    Wishing for an open house for the neighborhood, not just VIPs.

    • WSB August 23, 2016 (7:26 pm)

      We mentioned in the story that they’re inviting the neighborhood to the ribboncutting. They generally follow those with tours – I’ll check with SPS tomorrow.

  • Junction Lady August 24, 2016 (7:12 am)

    Money well spent.

  • heylady August 24, 2016 (10:38 am)

    Can anyone share facts about the intended curriculum and general approach to education? Thank you!

  • Sassy August 24, 2016 (12:11 pm)

    Look forward to hearing about the Public Tour and Ribbon Cutting.

    And yes – Roxhill needs help. They need to have their needs addressed this upcoming school year.  

  • AHP August 30, 2016 (9:56 pm)

    Just a note, Arbor Heights was listed as THE WORST in the district and almost shut down. As far as facilities, they could not drink the water, had no heat, rats AND mold. So while I feel for Roxhill, Arbor Heights had this upgrade coming. Roxhill should be next!

  • Mark Ahlness September 4, 2016 (6:57 pm)

    Beautiful building. I am very disturbed, but not surprised, by “…two ‘computer rooms,’ to be used for testing…”. If that is indeed their intended use, here’s hoping they are “converted to regular classrooms” asap.

  • Victoria September 9, 2016 (3:41 am)

    One of my proudest moments was helping keep that school open. Staring down a determined superintendent at school board meetings, good times. 

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