District Continues to Overbuild?

I'm not an architect so someone who know building design or construction, help me out.

The West Seattle Blog has a report about the "preferred schematic" for the future Genesee Hill school where Schmitz Park will be moving.    The good:

The design principles were described as including “really fit(ting) into the challenging site” where Genesee Hill Elementary now sits, and being “timeless” as well as serving as a “community resource … not just a place of learning … to be a community center, to allow for community access onto the site, to use as a park, if you will,” plus “to be sustainable … good steward of taxpayer dollars and good steward of our environment.”

On the second floor, the library would be located in a way that would take advantage of the Mount Rainier and territorial views from that location.” Donelson said that the preferred scheme, even with some two-story buildings, would still allow nearby neighbors to maintain their views.

The bad:

I look at this drawing and think "That looks like two very irregularly shaped buildings plus two "bridge" to join them.  And there's an instrumental music area (fine) and a dance studio (what?). 

Now what I heard from the BEX Oversight Committee - months ago - is a move towards a more generic elementary building.  Find three reasonable blueprints and the community can ask for one.


Because SPS has overdesigned and overbuilt now for years.  It costs a LOT of money for these irregular buildings.  Most people who have been in bad buildings will be grateful for shiny, new, safe and healthy.

I hope this is going back to the drawing board because I find it hard to believe this is a $38M building and if it is, couldn't it be simplified down to $30M?  There is so much need to go around.  


Kate Martin said…
There's a long way between cookie cutter schools with "standard plans" and remodeling the Taj Ma-Roosevelt or the Taj Ma-Garfield. Remodeling will always be very much more expensive than new construction, so we need to talk about how to remodel on a budget. For all kinds of projects, it would be etter to set a dollars per student guideline for construction and fit into those constraints than to build something that's not context-sensitive. The portables are the place for cookie cutter design, not the main buildings. And yes, making these buildings work all day and eve and all year round is a lot better than wasting the capacity by underutilizing them and failing to build strong cross-boundary collaborations to keep these schools humming all the time as student, family and community resources. Tighter construction management to reduce change orders would be a good direction to go as well.
Anonymous said…
So you're saying the garden roof promised to JA at Pinehurst as mitigation for throwing them out of their building is too expensive too? (Bitter Joke)

The basic design of schools is a good idea, even better if buildings are planned to include community needs beyond school. But each building will still have unique items due to building site or community promises.

Maybe we shouldn't have so many community plums in these buildings, but that would take the district pulling their heads out of their planning um 'pants' and not screwing up with every community every time, causing big ticket 'we're really sorry' benefits being thrown into capital projects.

Anonymous said…
In an environment where resources are lacking or scarce, I would lean towards standard buildings. Cheaper to build, operate and helps spread the resources all around. If some how we run across extra money, by all means, build one of a kind buildings and give communities their wish list. I doubt we are there though.

A friend
1616 said…
Hello all -

The irregularity of the building arrangement is largely driven by the irregularity of the site. There is currently a 35 foot difference between the ground at the entrance of the Genesee Hill school and the grassy area to the east. The essential building blocks of the current design are all fairly standard and have been implemented in other schools in the Puget Sound region. The design to which you refer is still just one option, even though it is a preferred direction. It actually works with the topography of the sloped site and requires less costly earthwork/sitework than most options. Leveling the site to a greater extent may yield a more "standard" building layout, but would be very costly and would disrupt the site and existing trees to a greater degree. And the budget of the building is set, so the design team is working within that budget. The task is to put the dollars where they make the most sense relative to many factors.

There are two spaces in the current design called "instrumental music" and "dance studio" that align with current educational program offerings at Schmitz Park. These rooms could/would be reconfigured to align with future program needs, so maybe a more accurate name would be "multi-purpose".

i want to believe that your comments on this site are in support of the District and their work to educate our kids. I do believe its smart for someone to be looking over the District's shoulder. Nonetheless, our kids need as much support as we can muster - and then some.

And... Vote Yes! to renew the Seattle Schools levies on Feb 12!

Mark Wainwright
Schmitz Park PTA President
Thank you, Mark. I will say that NO budget is ever "set" (go ask World School).

We at the blog always support kids but the dollars have to be well spent and that needs be be said repeatedly.
Anonymous said…

Just sharing
Jet City mom said…
My kids both opted to attend schools in old buildings, noting that it was the program and the people that make a school work, not the accoutrements.
As far as I can tell, humans have not undergone radical design changes to warrant throwing out buildings that are safe, maintained and creatively utilized.
Ballard Mom said…
Good design does not equal frivolous. Let's get out of this box of "standard plans" and incorporate new research in materials, space planning and smart/beautiful architecture.

It sounds like the multi-building + bridge was an answer to a challenging physical space and it shows innovative thinking.

More natural light for our kids! Every room wired for tomorrow's technology. Creative and maximum use of space.

I agree that it is important to cut costs in a time of miniscule budgets, but please don't use that as an excuse to stick to something 'standard' or 'good enough'. The very best design incorporates sustainability and economics, creatively finding ways to trim fat.

--Ballard Mom
syd said…


Staying within a budget is good. Templates can be OK - as long as we are not making them look like 1970's prisons. Look at Orca - high-small windows, dark halls. Take a look at Hawthorne - very similar. Children are just as cognizant of their surroundings as anyone else. It affects how they feel about themselves and about school. Rundown buildings with few windows and poor quality furniture are unsubtle messages that the students and education are not worthwhile. You may be able to counteract that at home, but the kids who need the most encouragement often don't get that at home or school.
ws said…
I love the new massing layouts. That site is extremely difficult with a steep cliff between two flat areas. If you wanted to put cookie cutter on it it would still require some type of structural connection between the two areas, otherwise the lower area would be mostly useless.

The other benefit I see this layout providing is it eliminates one of the issues with the current structure. Currently there is lots of places for vandalsim, illegal activity etc.. to hide in the current configuration. The backside of the school is well hidden and that is where the break ins, vandalism etc... occured.
Anonymous said…
All of you who want good design and innovative buildings must realize that it comes with a cost. Since the majority of Seattle residents don't have kids, we must be build the most efficient and economical way. If that means a standard building than so be it. If the cost is the same, of course build something cool, but not if it will coat more or we get less
Reprinting Anonymous which was deleted:

"All of you who want good design and innovative buildings must realize that it comes with a cost. Since the majority of Seattle residents don't have kids, we must be build the most efficient and economical way. If that means a standard building than so be it. If the cost is the same, of course build something cool, but not if it will coat more or we get less."

Ballard Mom, the district is well aware of the current standards for safety and the current thinking about natural light. I agree with what you say but understand that the district has got to get the most done for the money and "beautiful architecture" can't be the main driver.

No one wants boxy buildings but we also cannot afford complex buildings. The plan shows not one but two bridges. That costs money.
eriktanen said…
Often projects and design are a architect wet dream. We need to get the most out of the public's money.
On that note, I am still not sure I will vote yes for the BEX 4 plan. The district does not have a good track record building new buildings or major renovations. How are they going to manage the multitude of projects that they propose.

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