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A BLANK SLATE. The Genesee Hill site is West Seattle is slated to become home to a new elementary for the current student body and staff at Schmitz Park Elementary in 2015 if the BEX IV Levy passes in February. Architects are reaching out to the community for early design suggestions on the project.

Architects promise community collaboration in designing new Genesee Hill elementary

BLRB Architects out of Tacoma have been given the nod to design the new elementary school slated for the Genesee Hill site in 2015 and, assuming voters pass the Building Excellence school levy in February to fund it, they want the West Seattle community closely involved in the $38 million process.

That was the theme of a Nov. 19 presentation by BLRB and Seattle Public Schools held at Schmitz Park Elementary for those who braved the torrential downpours to learn more about plans for the new school.

The new school at Genesee Hill is part of Seattle School’s BEX IV (Building Excellence) Levy proposal. The district hopes to move Schmitz Park Elementary students and staff to the new building, and then continue to use the Schmitz building for yet-to-be-determined elementary purposes.

Tom Bates, managing principal at BLRB, laid out his firm’s outreach goals:

Advisory board made up of community members, Schmitz Park staff and parents? Check. Open houses for the public to provide feedback? Check. Reaching out to community and business organizations to set up meetings for more feedback? Check. Moving their entire design team into the current Schmitz Park Elementary for a week, starting on January 21, to get a feel for the school’s culture and allow students, teachers, parents, anyone (who checks in at the front office) to stop by and look at the work they are doing and suggest changes? Check.

While many architectural firms work behind the scenes, coming out from behind the curtain only for city-mandated public reviews, Bates said his firm takes a different approach, proactively working with the communities in which they build to create a building that will work for most.

BLRB has specialized in educational facility design since their 1953 inception, designing 700 schools (including 12 in Seattle) in that time, according to Bates.

Bates said his team has a “passion” for designing schools and believes the building design can have a positive effect on children’s ability to learn and staff morale.

“The building becomes a teaching tool,” he said.

Now is the time for brainstorming as the design process has yet to start. What is known is that the old Genesee Hill school will be demolished (carefully, due to asbestos and other environmental concerns when tearing down an old structure) and a multi-story, 500 to 650 seat school will be built somewhere on the property (and not necessarily in the footprint of the existing school).

Another open house will be held in January (specifics to be determined), and anyone with feedback on the project can either contact the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council at or Janet Donelson, SPS project manager for the new school, at 206-252-0697 or

Bates presented some starting questions for the community to consider in the design:

- What is unique about the Genesee-Schmitz neighborhood, including culture, activities and history, and how can that be maintained or highlighted in the design?
- The same question for Schmitz Park Elementary, including any past student or historical memories to share?
- What must be incorporated into the new school?

Seattle Public Schools also has elementary school educational specifications (found here) and general school guidelines which include building a learner centered environment (learning is the core mission), program adaptability (variety is learning tools to adapt to different learning styles), community connections, aesthetics, safety, and sustainability (green building elements in the design).

The general timeline for this project is pre-design investigative work happening for the next month, schematic design from January into April, design development from April into July, creation of construction documents from July into February of 2014, putting the project out to bid from February into April, with construction ideally beginning in April of 2014. While Janet Donelson of SPS was careful to explain that delays are often times a reality, they hope construction will take anywhere from 15 to 18 months and the school could either be ready for Schmitz Park Elementary to move over in August or December of 2015. Ultimately, that means classes could begin either in September, 2015 or January, 2016.

For Schmitz Park Elementary, a need for more room
Schmitz Park Elementary was built in the 60’s on land donated to SPS by the Schmitz family of West Seattle. It was built for a capacity of 285 students, and according to current Schmitz Park Principal Gerrit Kischner, their current population is 540 children. Illustrating the rapid growth of student population in West Seattle, Kischner said the population was 315 four years ago.

The school district will ultimately decide whether the new school will be built for 500 or 650 students during the design process. Bates said his firm will create two designs, one for 500 and another for 650.

An audience member questioned the logic behind the school size, saying “It seems like you gear towards 650 … it seems like you will almost already be at capacity with a brand new school right away if there is a surge of enrollment.”

Donelson said the district plans to reopen Fairmount Park Elementary in 2013 and plans to keep Schmitz Park open for elementary students, meaning more overall capacity for West Seattle.

“All of the new elementary schools (scheduled to be built if BEX IV passes)… were budgeted and targeted for 650 but recognizing there are a couple of things we don’t know about the future,” Donelson said. “We expect enrollment will go up (we don’t know that), we expect construction costs will go up moderately (we don’t know that for sure).”

Early ideas for the new school
A number of open house attendees on Nov. 19 gave BLRB Architects early feedback to consider in their design, including finding a way for the community to continue to use the space around the school (such as the garden, sledding hill and old growth forest), working with the city to slow drivers down along Genesee St., minimizing asphalt, and designing the building for views of the Sound and Olympics.

The Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council is also keeping tabs on community suggestions. They can be found at

The Genesee Hill site is located at 5012 S.W. Genesee St. and bordered by S.W. Dakota St. to the north, 49th Ave S.W. to the east, S.W. Genesee St. to the south and 51st Ave S.W. to the west.

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