By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tomorrow night (Monday, October 10th), the Roxhill Elementary PTSA plans to talk with West Seattle’s school-board rep Leslie Harris about the state of the plan to move Roxhill to EC Hughes Elementary, one mile north.
It’s been one year since the district confirmed to WSB that the move was under consideration.
Since then, the district has proceeded with renovation plans for the 90-year-old, city-landmark EC Hughes, closed by the district in 1989, then used as a backup until independent Westside School (WSB sponsor) leased it for five years.
But there’s been little public discussion about the moving plan, and it hasn’t been finalized by the School Board, though various documents say it’s set to take effect in fall 2018.
So we asked the district for a chance to take a closer look at what’s in the works for EC Hughes, and were granted a tour with a district manager and an architect from the team working on the renovations.
First, the timeline for the renovation work:
They’re expecting to go to bid in early 2017. They’ve already taken the plan to the Landmark Preservation Board – necessary because EC Hughes is a city landmark – and applied to the city for a building permit less than a week ago.
Another thing we learned: This first phase of modernization is not going to take the school to a 550-student-capacity facility after all. That would be in a second phase, with funding potentially coming from the BEX (Building Excellence) V levy, which isn’t expected to go to voters until February 2019 (planning is under way now). This first phase, a ~$14 million project (per what went to the board last March), has funding from last year’s BTA IV levy plus state “distressed school” funding.
So you’re not seeing notification signs outside the school because a land-use permit isn’t required for this first phase – no substantial addition, no change of use. Even the pickup/dropoff configuration will be the same as the school’s previous incarnations. The wider road and longer frontage outside EC Hughes were listed as reasons it is considered a superior site for modernization than Roxhill (built ~30 years after Hughes).
Unlike other recent school rebuild/renovation projects, the “design team” process on this one has proceeded relatively quietly – no widely disseminated public notices of meetings, for example. We’ve found some online minutes such as these from last March. Roxhill’s now-former principal, Sahnica Washington, was involved in those conversations, though those minutes from March point out:
… Miss Washington asked what the future of Roxhill was, a point that the team could not provide complete clarity on. What is known is that a school will move into E.C Hughes September 2018 and it could be Roxhill. Therefore, help from the principal would give insight into preparing E.C. Hughes to be occupied. …
For this update, we talked on site recently with two of the key people involved with the project, Seattle Public Schools’ Mike Skutack and architect Ariel Mieling from the DLR Group.
Mieling said one of the main goals is to bring the school up to code, including seismic and disability-access regulations, though some work was done in the ’90s. While the school was built in 1926, there were additions starting as early as the following year, including the cafeteria/auditorium area (which those March 2016 design-team notes point out is smaller than Roxhill’s cafetorium, a point at which the then-Roxhill principal is described as having voiced “alarm”).
The cafetorium’s kitchen will be brought up to standards; its floor will be refinished, and its radiators will be replaced. The modernization is meant to make it a “warm, safe, and dry building,” Mieling explained. The school will still feel “historic” – but “refreshed.” It will get all-new mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems, which means no more exposed piping in the ceilings:
Clay-tile walls that are seismically unsafe will be removed. The most signficant interior remodeling described to us will be in the entry area, which now holds closed offices, as was the style when EC Hughes was built; instead, open-style areas will be created, with reception on the left, and new spaces for students to work with various professionals, and for meetings with families:
The space also will feature a clinic as SPS continues partnering with Neighborcare Health.
As we toured the building’s classrooms and other spaces, we learned more about the updates in the plan. Classrooms have some distinctive touches from the past, including cabinetry that will remain.
To bring them into the 21st century, the classrooms will get high-tech equipment including interactive projection capability, and LED lighting, which will be set to dim when light from outside, through EC Hughes’s generally large windows.
After visiting classrooms on multiple levels, we went down to the gym, on the lower level. Its old climbing equipment will be removed; a modern climbing wall is expected in its place. Its floor will be refinished; the district won’t know until the bids come in whether the ceiling can be replaced.
In the potential Phase 2 of upgrading EC Hughes, a new gym would be added, among other spaces. It was reiterated that Phase 2 could be accomplished without moving students out of the school – while, the district says, if Roxhill were to be upgraded, its students would wind up in EC Hughes anyway.
Roxhill does have to be updated eventually, but its future, assuming the move is finalized, has yet to be determined, according to Seattle Public Schools’ Chris Richardson, with whom we spoke by phone at the end of our Hughes tour. He said that the reopened Hughes, after Phase 1, would have room for about 400 students, compared to 350 at Roxhill. (It should be noted that the portable classrooms added to the Hughes campus by Westside School will remain and be used as classrooms, and that counts toward the ~400 capacity. Breakdowns of the space at Hughes are toward the end of this district document from August.)
With a second-phase expansion, no sooner than 2020, Hughes would have room for 550 students (updated)- for comparison, Fairmount Park Elementary was renovated/expanded to have room for 500. Richardson said the possibilities for Roxhill could include centralizing programs that are currently “scattered around South Seattle, West Seattle” – testing and special education were mentioned – “maybe consolidate some things into (the Roxhill building).”
We also asked what sort of public process is ahead before a decision to move the Roxhill program into EC Hughes is finalized. While no specific dates or times were mentioned, Richardson promised conversations with the Roxhill community.
But first, as we mentioned above, the Roxhill PTSA is planning a discussion tomorrow at 6 pm.