Monday, April 07, 2014

Wilson-Pacific Needs an Auditorium

I don't believe this project is going well. 

It's interesting because it got roundly defended by Director Carr at last week's Board meeting.  But all the engagement she noted was before it was decided that Pinehurst would be part of the mix.  I almost wonder if the Board feels like the district gave in on that one and so they won't argue about the auditorium.  

I also believe that, like the World School at TT Minor, Pinehurst won't be at W-P very long.  (I'm not speaking out of turn or endangering either program - I'm saying what is perfectly obvious given the growth in this district.) 

To say that an auditorium would be underused and not worth the space, given you are talking about two schools next to each other, in an area without a community center space and the multiple uses that schools with auditoriums find, I'm not buying the district's arguments against W-P having one.

Think about signing this petition because (1) it really is a good investment for W-P and (2) someday it may be your school that needs something and you will want the support.  


Wilson Pacific Middle School
Real Plans or Wishful Thinking?

Seattle Public Schools has made many very reasonable-sounding statements about the future Wilson Pacific Middle School. However, without a detailed plan to support the execution of these statements, it is little more than wishful thinking.

SPS Statement
On-the-Ground Reality

Auditoriums are not standard at middle school and are underutilized.
The auditoriums in North Seattle middle  schools are in constant use, as both performance, meeting, and as classroom space. Schools without auditoriums draw on schools WITH auditoriums for performances, all-school events, etc. Borrowing space puts a heavy and inequitable burden on the school that needs to schedule around the host school, transport instruments/sets/gear for every event, etc. 
Auditorium alternatives
A flexible Common Space works just fine. (Hamilton MS)
Commons is in use as a lunchroom for more than half the school day. Stage too small for all school music groups, plays, or other activites. Classroom windows face onto Commons, so all Commons activies can be clearly heard in classrooms.
What was intended with the Wilson Pacific Budget?
An Auditorium is NOT in the budget.
WP is the first new SPS middle school  since 1963. Is intentionally building a school with a 70+ year service life in an inflexible configuration a good use of limited resources?
What is expected enrollment at Wilson Pacific?
Projections show that enrollment will be around 700, leaving plenty of space for an embedded K8.
The current the current K, 1st and 2nd graders from the feeder schools, plus a model percentage of the APP enrollment shows that enrollment will be about 900 when Wilson Pacific opens and will quickly grow to over 1,000 with no additional growth or boundary changes.

Is the sharing arrangement between the K8 and Wilson Pacific sustainable.
Enrollment by school does not show the whole picture. Middle school enrollment needs to be examined in the context of the entire north end.   Wilson Pacific will share a boundary with all 4 comprehensive middle schools and therefore any capacity problem in any north end middle school will have a direct ripple effect on Wilson Pacific.

As such, Wilson Pacific needs to be the most flexible school, not the least flexible. The current design is incredibly inflexible. There are very limited opportunities for portable placement, shared program space (Lincon’s use of athletic fields, etc), or other complex arrangements with the current design.
What community engagement has been done.
Not everyone is going to agree. However, extensive community engagement will all stakeholders was conducted over the entire project timeline and the district has acted in good faith.
Regardless of what community engagement was done, the Board voted to embed a K8 at Wilson Pacific during the same vote that set the boundaries for a comprehensive middle school. This vote significantly and substantially changed the entire scope of the project.

There has be NO community engagement about any of the subsequent changes. Moreover, there has been NO community engagement for Lincoln High School which would include the use of the fields at Wilson Pacific.


Anonymous said...

I'm all for an auditorium at Wilson-Pacific. But *only* if that multi-million-dollar investment comes with an honest discussion from staff, board and the public about what would subsequently be dropped from the stated BEX priorities. Would it be the Arbor Heights remodel? Providing lunch space at McGilvra? Wing Luke's new building? New space for Schmitz Park? Another delay for Meany/World School/Nova?

The fastest way to burn the full district is to appease one portion of the district without explaining the downside to the rest of the district (and the taxpayers who thought they were voting for one thing, even though, yes the district can and has switched out BEX projects many, many times.)

There is no perfect answer for priorities. This BEX is more likely to be moving puzzle pieces than past ones. Promises made on project priorities listed for the public BEX vote will be broken, of that I have no doubt. Enrollment is growing too fast not to reprioritize.

But when something has to give, it is beholden on both the parents pushing for change and the district engaging with them to be honest - and thoughtful - about monetary tradeoffs.

I can't sign that petition until I hear commitment from parents/board/staff to have that honest -- and public -- discussion.

Capacity Wonk

P.S. An auditorium...hmmmm...sure seems like a place to seek and secure a multi-million-dollar estate bequest, or commercial naming rights, or....

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, but understand that two projects - W-P and Genesee Hill - are over budget. GH was mishandled (and I say that because that's pretty much what was said in the Board report) and W-P had to add on Pinehurst (and I do not blame the addition of Pinehurst for not having the auditorium).

Frankly because of the fluidity of the capital dollars, I'm not sure how many dollars there are out there.

Anonymous said...


I get pretty annoyed when I hear people describe any BEX IV project as "over-budget" because none of these projects had a realistic budget to start with. Instead, generic price tags were listed for the elementary schools, middle schools and high schools based on a rough estimate of the cost of the educational specifications of each category. No accounting was made for the particular site development costs, special needs of the school's programs, etc. Buildings can determined to be "over-budget" only after realistic estimates are made to account for all of these costs.

Let's be fair

Charlie Mas said...

Schools - all schools - need spaces where the entire school community can gather. It's integral to the school's effort to create a unified culture and community.

Anonymous said...

When HIMS was designed,SPS did not plan on having north APP there. When they made that change, the school filled up. The music program grew and changes had to be made to accommodate the thriving music program--turn and exercise room into a band room. I can't speak about this year and last year, but during the prior three years, some of the concerts took place in the commons, but many took place at Lincoln auditorium. Sometimes there were scheduling challenges with the elementary school using the auditorium for a drama project at the same time as a rehearsal for an evening concert. The whole school can't fit in the HIMS commons. If there was an assembly there had to be at least two--can't remember if there were three. So if a student was going to perform at an assembly it took missing more than one class. Yes HIMS is a beautiful school. Yes I think a middle school needs an auditorium. If it is going to use an auditorium in another school, it needs to be worked out for scheduling and fairness to the host school. The needs of a thriving arts program are large--besides music there is also drama, and world arts.

kellie said...

Capacity Wonk,

You are completely and totally off-base here and frankly making it clearly that your understanding of capacity is pretty limited. Based on your comments, you should be budget wonk.

As your comments to budget, I essentially agree. But there are so many budget issues that is an entirely different conversation. Where in the budget is the money for the ONE YEAR delay to move Nova back to Nova.

From a purely capacity point of view, the most expensive thing you can do is make space that is empty. The second most expensive thing you can do is make space that doesn't do the job.

Building a campus for 2,000 students that does not have an auditorium is simply penny wise and pound foolish. Not only are individual schools overwhelmed with capacity issues but the entire system is overwhelmed with capacity issues. There was nothing in the BEX plan that said, we are going to build a gorgeous building with lots of light and courtyards and absolutely no core capacity for the system.

It is not about a middle school auditorium, it is about the critical and necessary services that serve an entire region. The Eckstein auditorium is in heavy demand, not just from Eckstein but from all the elementary schools who can no longer host all school events and need access to that auditorium.

Anonymous said...

@Kellie. Like I said, I completely support an auditorium. But I can't have the district put one in and then have parents in another part of the district be told that there is no $$ for their project because of the auditorium. C'mon. You know this district and you know exactly that this is what will happen.

We are on the same page. First the plan, then then the execution.

Also, to your point about empty space, the district DOES see an auditorium as empty space. That's their whole argument. They are running so scared to make enough seats for butts that as usual programmatic concerns are not in synch with capital concerns.

In a top rate district, programmatic concerns would DRIVE capital expenditures. In this one, not so much. It's one of the many reasons SPS continues to look inept year after year.

At the very least, the WP archtectural plans should indicate where an auditorium could be built and integrated when more money is available. That is smart planning. At the most, they should build the auditorium, but again, not without the larger conversation of shifting priorities.

Capacity Wonk

Eric B said...

Revising the plans to include an auditorium can almost certainly be done within the original budget. Auditoriums are relatively cheap space, since they are largely empty and lighting/sound can be basic systems that can be expanded over time. One simple way to get this into the budget would be to make the entire building much more rectangular. Straight lines are easier to build than odd recesses and the perimeter is more expensive than floor space. In other words, you can get more square feet for the same price by building something basic and flexible rather than something that wins awards. It doesn't have to be ugly, just basic.

Lisa said...

Just a reminder that Hamilton also was built without an auditorium. And without adequate music room facilities. And had to be renovated just two years after opening. What a waste of money -- I am sure it would have been cheaper and better to plan well in the first place. I wonder what it will be like at Hamilton once Lincoln is in full use and not a transitional facility. It is already difficult to plan auditorium use among the various groups that use Lincoln. Keep in mind that it is school, and usage needs tend to pile up at certain times of the year -- December & June especially.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Let's be fair, I can't tell if you are joking. Budgets were made for each project based on bids by contractors who did the assessment of the work. If you read, as I did, the explanation for the $2M overage at Genesee Hill, you would be troubled that somehow no one was able to perceive the issues at that site. Which is hard to believe if you even just walk it.

Kellie, took the words out my mouth - penny-wise, pound foolish. We are creating these buildings to be there for decades. It is not a nicety to have an auditorium; it's a need. And parents in the future will all wonder, "what were they thinking?"

Eric, great thinking.

I urge everyone to write to Flip Herndon and the Board on this issue.

(I did ask the Superintendent about it last night and he asked me, "how did this talk about an auditorium come up?")

kellie said...

@ capacity wonk,

I am saying you are setting up a false argument.

The notion that the Wilson Pacific auditorium is going to directly displace something "specific" is just not how this works. BEX is not balanced to that level of transparency so engaging in that argument is a one sided activity.

IMHO, this is a conversation about doing something in a way that provides genuine usable capacity for decades or doing this in a way that is focused on optics. "An auditorium is too expensive" is an argument about how it looks to spend that money.

I strongly object to setting up an argument that we "can't afford" to build a building that has educating students for decades as the number 1 priority. If education was the first priority, we would be using a fraction of the budget to make an auditorium.

As Eric B said, it is entirely possible that an auditorium can be included within the budget. But most importantly to me, it is much cheaper to build an auditorium than to add an auditorium,

Auditoriums are typically nested in the middle of a building and take advantage of being windowless. this allows more classrooms to be placed with windows. When you add an auditorium at a later date, you lose this construction efficiency.

ben said...

Another possibility to consider if there is really no budget for additions to Wilson Pacific would be to at least plan/design a future auditorium now so any expansion was less disruptive.

As usual my main disappointment with all the district planning is how slapdash and reactive it appears from the outside. Its never really clear if decisions are made based on the best information.

Robyn said...

Thank you, Melissa!

kellie said...

The biggest issue with WP at the moment is that the budget is simply not aligned with the expectations of the capacity the building is expected / required to deliver.

The building was originally planned as a 1250 seat middle school. That was reduced to a 1000 seat middle school in order to save a little money when they added the costs of opening JAMS and moving the e-stem K8 to the Pinehurst building.

However, there was nothing added to the budget for the Indian Heritage program, Pinehurst K8 or Cascade Parent Partnership, even though all three of those communities were going to be displaced in this process. When the decision was made to displace three communities the budget to place them should have been added to BEX but it simply wasn't. That is the heart of the problem that we keep bumping up against.

So now we need to place those three communities. Cascade is going into Queen Anne and displacing the NW Center. Indian Heritage and Pinehurst have merged into one program and placed into the Wilson Pacific building.

If this were a typical process, then the budget would have been expanded to include the placement of Indian Heritage and Pinehurst at Wilson Pacific and the building would have been expanded back to the original budget for a 1250 seat building. But instead we are just trying to squeeze more optics out of the building and trying to pretend that it doesn't cost "anything more" to place a K8 within the 1000 seat middle school.

At some point, we just have to face the reality that enrollment growth has outpaced expectation and that it is imperative that the Wilson Pacific building is built to last and it is built to provide critical and necessary capacity to serve students for decades to come. Designing it to some to problem of the day is not a good use of tax payer dollars.

kellie said...

@ capacity wonk,

FWIW, I agree with you that in a more typical budget, there is direct alignment between additions and subtractions. The world of trade offs is how most people work. Most people tend to live in the world of if I buy X, then I can't buy Y.

There are some significant BEX budget items that have a much bigger impact than an auditorium, not the least of which will be the increase costs of materials and labor.

The original BEX plan had Schmitz Park and Boren both begin returned to inventory. However, they will not be returned to inventory, they are going to be active in use buildings. The original plan, also did not address Cedar Park or Queen Anne. These four buildings have been pushed into service and there are real costs.

The issue with the Mann building has added one full year to the timeline. There are real costs for that as well.

I simply object to having some but not all items listed as trade offs. It is more and more clear that BEX is not enough to solve the capacity issues we have. We are going to have to find another source of funding to bring enough capacity on line. It we are going to have to find, more funding, it becomes even more critical to avoid penny wise, pound foolish decision that will only made increased costs at a later date.

Anonymous said...

Put the design in now. Build it later when there's more money.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"As usual my main disappointment with all the district planning is how slapdash and reactive it appears from the outside. Its never really clear if decisions are made based on the best information."


Kellie, I did speak to Dr. Herndon about capacity last night. He did say that more of the next BTA and BEX would have to go directly to capacity issues. I also pointed out that there is way too much "creep" into those levies for non-facilities items. The district is using BTA to pay for items they want but cannot afford out of the General Fund.

We cannot continue to grow the maintenance backlog and not clearly and truly address capacity issues without those dollars.

Something has to give and I suspect the next BTA will have a different look to it.

Anonymous said...

There is a bigger problem at Wilson Pacific than just the lack of an auditorium for a campus of 1,700 students (that is the minimum enrollment, BTW): the building as the architects have conceived of it is way overbuilt, which costs lots of money, money that could have gone to a -wait for it- auditorium! Instead, the architects want a sprawled out building, that could be entered to win prestigious awards. So they look good. But, the kids in the buildings over the next 50 years? Whatever.

The Board needs to stop the whole crazy train. It is the design that is driving the costs and yet no body has the 'authority' to stop this, so as a result, the future generations are saddled with a bad building that won't have any reasonable internal circulation, and too much of the site will need to have extraordinary security measures (because no site-lines are present in the plans), and the absolute bonus is that Whitman will have to keep ALL of its portables, because the WP site design doesn't allow for more than a few of them. So, instead of 20 middle school portables (10 at WP and 10 at Whitman), it will be 15 at Whitman and 5 at WP. But, at least Whitman has an auditorium!

If this District DOESN'T have money for an auditorium, how come it had $5 million dollars EXTRA to push into the WP budget to pay for extra management?


I may be powerless, and I may have to join the others in watching this now $116 million project be built in a stupid way, by folks who won't likely be with the district in a few years, BUT, I at least get to vote no more dollars until/unless the district starts using the dollars they have for realistic buildings with needed core facilities (that was why I voted yes to BEX IV)

-redo WP

Eric B said...

@redo WP: I suggest a contract rider that no architect may submit a building designed for SPS for an award. OK, that's maybe a little harsh, but it gets to the point of architects doing things for themselves rather than for the District.

kellie said...

redo WP brings another really great point. The way the campus is being designed there is both NOT an easy way to add an additional wing at a future date AND there is not an easy way to add portables.

At a few of the early design team meetings, some of the SDAT thought this was a great thing and meant that the building could not be portabled to death like Eckstein. However, without the ability to add portables, we have the Hamilton issue, where all the rooms are 100% utilized and many teachers are over-loaded. Without the ability to add portables the students still need to be served and that can easily mean classes with 40 students.

mirmac1 said...

That's right Melissa. They found some more BTA "underspend" to pay for that "ConnectEDU" webhosting site for all 6-12th graders course data, test scores, college applications etc.

Anonymous said...

The original Hamilton building had a auditorium in the center of the building, and there was a large music room above it, with storage space as well as classrooms on the 3rd floor. The Commons seems to be popular with architects, but I suspect architects don't actually deal with large groups of people on a regular basis. They seem to be very keen on "multi-purpose" areas - but I have to say that the open shared spaces outside the classrooms don't always work well-it can be noisy, and distracting.

Because the Commons goes all the way up to the skylights, that same square footage is unavailable for use as classrooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors. I fantasize about a purgatory for school architects where they are forced to plan various school events in buildings that make lovely pictures when empty, but don't work at all when you have actual students trying to perform, with actual parents in attendance.

The HIMS eight grade promotion ceremony last year was utterly ridiculous. It was held in the Lincoln auditorium, and they didn't have the students cross the stage, they were seated in the auditorium, and asked to stand as each name was called. Parents and friends could see the back of the first 50 as they stood, but since the students were seated in no kind of order it was all but impossible see the student whose name was called. I understand that 8th grade promotion is not high school graduation, but it was beyond irritating to bring out of town grandparents to a ceremony that was so poorly organized and presented. I know that it just one example, but promotion does happen every year! Not having an auditorium/stage/performance space means that not just music and drama have no place to perform, but neither do LA/World Languages that want to do a play. If the Lincoln and Eckstein auditoriums are in such high demand, I would think that there will be similar demand in the North End, where there is such growth in capacity. But, let's save some money, and then that decision can mock us 20+ times a year, as we either gather to watch teachers and students jury rig sets and performances in too-small "multi-purpose" spaces or juggle to rent space in other schools.

Penny wise and pound foolish indeed. If this goes through without a decent auditorium, I really would like to assign the architects and school board to event planning.


Anonymous said...

Wilson Pacific design community meeting -- a MASSIVE turnout is required to have a potential impact.

Tuesday May 13 at 6:30pm at Wilson Pacific