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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.

Advisory board exploring designs for new elementary school at Genesee Hill

If Seattle voters pass the BEX IV Levy in February funding will be available for a new West Seattle elementary school planned for the Genesee Hill site at 2012 S.W. Genesee St. in 2015.

The current Genesee Hill School will be demolished, according to Seattle Public Schools, and a multi-story facility with room for 500 to 650 students will replace it. Students and staff from Schmitz Park Elementary will move into the larger building, allowing them to expand and opening up the Schmitz Park building for additional elementary seats. The hope is to lessen overcrowding pressure in West Seattle schools.

While the levy vote determines the plans future, Seattle Public Schools has already chosen BLRB Architects out of Tacoma for the job, and the firm is busy working with the community to develop a plan for the new school. Part of that process includes working with a School Design Advisory Team made up of educators, parents and community members

The team met on Dec. 15 with the Newtown, Conn. school shooting forefront in their minds, and came up with a number of early suggestions shared with the community by the Genesee-Schmitz Neighborhood Council.

Here is GSNC’s report:

On Dec. 15 (which happened to be the day after the Newtown, CT, school tragedy), the School Design Advisory Team (SDAT) met to explore possible layouts for the new elementary school to be built on the Genesee Hill site. A variety of possibilities were explored, and the design was narrowed down to one for the architects to further explore and assess from a feasibility and cost standpoint.

Here is a summary of what was included in this design (apologies that it is a text description, but no drawings or plans are currently available):

- The building itself would be located mainly on the upside down L-shaped upper area of the site (as viewed from SW Genesee St.; i.e., the levels where the current bldg. and portables are located). It is possible that some classrooms would "step down" one or both of the slopes to the lower field; this would be more expensive upfront but could result in heating savings later.

- The preferred design would have half the classrooms where the southernmost portables are now, overlooking or partially stepping down the slope; these would be connected to a central core area at the corner of the L to include the library--optimally located for the view of Rainier--and administrative offices. The long leg of the L (on the western part of the site) would include more classrooms (again either on top of the slope or partially stepping down it) and the gym/multipurpose/performance and Hiawatha spaces.

- The building's elements would include an office/administrative area (preferred to be located where it will see all visitors entering the main entrance off of SW Dakota St.), 6 clusters of classrooms, with 4 classrooms, restrooms, and other shared spaces in each cluster. There would also be a library, gym, multipurpose room (cafeteria), occupational/speech/physical therapy spaces, and a smaller performance space. In addition, there would be space for the Hiawatha before-and-after school child care program to operate, custodial spaces, etc. The design team dealt only with the major spaces, not the more minor ones, and even then, the architectural team will have to make the final call.

- The large trees on the site are currently being assessed as to their location and condition; obviously, any buildings on the slopes would necessitate removal of trees and also native plants on the west side. It is important to school staff to have visibility through the site for safety purposes. The design advisory team members were split with regard to keeping the trees, with some folks (such as GSNC) in favor of keeping them, and others not at all concerned if they were cut.

- Parent/general parking would likely be onsite along the SW Dakota St. side, and staff parking would be located near the corner of 51st and Genesee; bus dropoff and loading would be along 51st Ave. SW. There would also need to be a service drive, perhaps off of SW Dakota St. There are very few access points on the property where the street level and the site level match, which makes this a challenge.

- The main play areas would be located at the NE corner of the lower field, nestled below the building, with a switchbacked ramp from the building down to the field. There would be a smaller asphalt area (perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of the overall area), with the remainder left in grass. The school would also like to have a small vegetable garden for the students. In addition, there would be a covered play area of some kind, and a covered outdoor learning area/pavilion.

- There would be stairs added at the NE and SW corners of the grassy field to the upper level; these could be used as people come and go from the site. (There would be no public passthrough at the corner of the L.)

- There would be an entrance gate, perhaps with art, at the SE corner of the property. This would allow community access across the site to the NE stairs and SW Dakota St. during nonschool hours; GSNC is working with the district in hopes of getting some assurance that this access will be protected.

Remember that none of this is set in stone, though major changes to the general layout are probably unlikely. The architectural team continues to take comments even during the holidays, so we welcome your feedback to our e-mail address (gsncouncil@gmail.com) and will pass it on to them.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on a more finalized version of this plan during the week of Jan. 22-25 when the architects will be available daily during school hours at Schmitz Park School. There will also be a public meeting around that time (date to be announced).

In addition, GSNC is working with the district and the architects to finalize the date of the next GSNC meeting when the architects can present their vision for the new design (with cost and feasibility taken into account). We will let you know as soon as we have more information on this meeting.