By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
On the day after Earth Day, this is a story about recycling.
For the second time in six years, Westside School (10404 34th SW; WSB sponsor) is recycling an old church.
Its Arbor Heights campus, opened in 2015 after Westside spent 34 years at other locations, is built on what was Hillcrest Presbyterian Church. And now Westside is expanding south, by renovating the former New Apostolic Church next door (3210 SW 106th) into two preschool classrooms, enabling the independent school to double the size of its preschool and pre-K programs.
Two years ago, we mentioned that the owners of the former church, whose congregation merged with one in Federal Way, had approached Westside about possibly renting the property. The idea of using it for a preschool expansion was in a very early stage then. But it’s since blossomed into a lease and a plan; the work is now under way, with the expansion expected to open this fall.
We toured the under-renovation site this week with Westside’s head of school Steve de Beer, preschool/pre-kindergarten division director McKenzie Craig, and advancement director Nicole Caden.
Westside is enthused not just about the building but about its grounds – an expansive front yard, in particular, which will be fenced and used as an outdoor classroom, including garden space. Not just on sunny days – the students get to go out in the rain too. Craig says play-based learning opportunities will abound – even something as seemingly simple as “how to move water from one puddle to another” can incorporate a wealth of science and math lessons.
In the transition between outdoors and indoors, there’ll be a “mud room” near the front entrance. The entire interior is being made over with 3-to-4-year-olds in mind, de Beer explained, with two classrooms on the main level, and the basement being converted into spaces including art rooms, a kitchen, and storage. Craig points out that the features are all being designed at preschooler scale, including the restroom facilities – no boosters or step-stools needed, they’ll be able to feel accomplished. Here’s a penciled rendering:
The adjacency means Westside’s signature programs can remain connected, such as the Wolf Pack buddy system with older students mentoring preschoolers (the wolf is the Westside mascot). The pandemic has forced some changes in how programs operate – Westside’s been in hybrid learning since the start of this school year – but pre-COVID, Craig notes, middle-schoolers would visit the preschool classrooms and engage in art and play. The preschoolers, meantime, will have access to the rest of the campus for classes and activities, such as PE and library.
Westside currently has one preschool class and one pre-K class; the expansion will enable two of each – two pre-K in the original building, and the new building will hold two classes of 14 students each. This will also support the school’s overall growth, as, de Beer says, the limits on entry-age admissions meant no room for some families who wanted to start their children at a school where they could continue for many years.
In addition to what the project means for future students, it’s been a community endeavor for the school’s families, present and past, from the fundraising to make it happen, to in-kind donations from parents whose expertise has become part of the project. Construction, for esample, is being led by West Seattle-headquartered STS Construction Services (WSB sponsor). The design is by SKL Architects.
The interior decor will be focused on neutral/light colors so that art projects, for example, stand out.
Back to the recycling point – Westside is donating all but one of the old church pews; that one will stay “as a nod to the building’s history,” says Craig.
Most of the building’s windows are yellow-tinted glass and will be replaced to let in far more light, though there’s a bit of stained glass toward the front that will stay.
“We’re excited about this space!” Craig enthuses, before we all walk back over to the main building.
We asked what else is new at Westside. Their diversity/equity/inclusion focus is expanding with an equity/ethics teacher joining the middle school next year. The foundation for that learning begins in preschool, Craig says, with conversations about everything from social justice to identity. The student body is diversifying, de Beer adds, with next year’s kindergarten enrollment 40 percent BIPOC.
Meantime, if you’re interested in finding out more about Westside’s preschool/pre-K programs, they’re continuing to accept applications for next school year, so an online event is planned Tuesday night (April 27th) – email Westside’s admissions director Ted Holmes at firstname.lastname@example.org for participation information.