(WSB photos by Patrick Sand)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Two weeks from tomorrow, West Seattle Elementary School students and staff will have classes at their 6760 34th SW home campus for the first time in more than two years.
While WSES spent those two years in temporary quarters at the former Schmitz Park Elementary, their school underwent big changes – an addition and renovations. We requested a tour so we could show you those changes before the school year. Shown below are our tour guides last Friday afternoon:
From left are assistant principal Ritchie Garcia, Miller Hayashi Architects principal Laura Maman and project manager Pearlene Cheah, and Seattle Public Schools‘ project manager David L. Jackson. We photographed them beneath what might be the most distinctive feature of the expansion-and-renovation project – shown atop this story – a new entrance canopy that is visible from the streets west and east of the school and from the neighborhood to its north.
We started our tour at the front entrance, which is now a secure space with separate doors for the office and the hallway.
Once you’re securely inside, there’s a waiting area for families, which Maman notes has additional importance because of all the resources provided through the school (not just for its students). Lots of glass, lots of light, which is a hallmark of the entire school – Garcia notes that he’s been at WSES more than a decade and schools built the old way “feel like cellblocks.” Right inside the entrance, you’ll also find this “welcome wall”:
Jackson calls it a “great placemaker.” From there, it was upstairs – on a staircase decorated with tile art we’re told was repurposed from before the expansion/renovation:
Right above the foyer, with windows looking over and beyond the new canopy, is the new library, replacing what was a windowless, “buried” space, Maman says.
Openness is a theme throughout much of the school now – including large common spaces where learning can move outside the classroom (still being set up when we visited last Friday, but you can get the idea):
Openness extends to the sink area outside the new restrooms – so that teachers can supervise in an area that otherwise might be mischief-prone:
In classrooms and hallways, water-bottle fillers are installed:
(Students will get their own reusable bottles.)
The addition and existing building are so seamlessly tied together, the main visual clue that you’re transitioning from one to the other is an interior set of fire doors. The addition has eight classrooms upstairs, and four kindergarten classrooms downstairs. All classrooms at WSES now have projection boards:
So do commons and student-dining areas (new sound system, too). Back to the smaller details – classroom tables have backpack hooks:
Kindergarten classrooms have their own bathrooms, as well as cubbies.
Elsewhere on the first floor, there’s an area for visiting parents/guardians to access resources – a food pantry, bulletin board, computers, social-worker meetings:
More schools are adding those, Tina Christiansen of SPS told us, and one is part of the design for the new Alki Elementary, which like the WSES project was funded by the district’s voter-approved BEX V levy.
We headed outside to find out about what students and staff will experience there. A new mural is in progress in the southwest corner, though we’re told it’s not officially part of the project:
The contractor, Jody Miller Construction, still has some work under way on the playground and soccer-field areas along the south side of the school. There’s been some regrading on that side, too. On the paved area, a ‘traffic garden” for bicycle learning is sharing space with the basketball courts:
Speaking of bicycles, there are covered and uncovered racks on the north side near the entrance:
Walking and riding to the school entrance from 34th SW will be safer now with a pathway extending all the way to the street. One more note: This is an all-electric school.
The newly expanded school be officially dedicated with a ribboncutting before school starts, and we’re told the legendary welcoming “Be There Rally” will return this year too, as principal Pamela McCowan-Conyers, her staff, and community members greet the students. In advance of all that, a commemorative plaque is already in place inside the school.
NUMBERS AND BACKSTORY: The project was budgeted at $28 million (awaiting a final number). WSES is expecting about 400 students this year, Garcia says, but had up to 460 pre-pandemic, requiring 5 portables, now no longer necessary because of the addition. Potential capacity is now 500 students. Originally the work was to be completed over the course of one school year instead of two, but the concrete dispute led to a delay, and rather than reopen the school at midyear, it was decided to wait until now.
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