Background and Process
In August 2002, Seattle Public Schools convened a School Design Team (SDT) comprised of over (30) members to begin the planning and visioning process for the new South Shore K-8 School. The group met more than 20 times throughout 2002 and 2003, and in late fall of 2003, the project was put on hold. The district engaged BLRB Architects and re-initiated the project late in the fall of 2005, assembling a new 28-member SDT representing faculty and staff, parents, community members, district administration and capital projects staff to guide project development.
Beginning in January 2006, the design team facilitated a series of workshops and meetings with the SDT to develop the educational program and explore design options and floor plans for the new South Shore School that would best support its program. Essential project parameters necessitated that the new school be built on the site of the original facility; be approximately 134,000 square feet in area; be multi-story and have the capacity for 1,000 students. Supported by the architectural design team, the SDT initially developed two alternatives for the project, critically evaluated each alternative and subsequently synthesized the two alternatives into a single, optimal conceptual design that was presented to and approved by the District and school board.
South Shore K-8 School is located on a gently sloping site in a densely populated urban neighborhood in Seattle’s south end Rainier Beach neighborhood. The site also houses the district’s South Lake Alternative High School, and the Rainier Beach Community Center which is connected to South Shore and owned and operated by Seattle’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Several organizations have facilities on site, including the Rainier Beach Family Center, Committee for Children, University Preparatory Academy and the Seattle Academy of Arts and Science.
Project Goals, Mission and Vision
South Shore K-8 School is a self-described neighborhood school that focuses on academic excellence, emphasizing opportunity for students of color and economic disadvantage. The school’s ethos is centered on an integrated approach to education that celebrates diversity, and in which the student’s body, mind and spirit are nurtured through all elements of the educational program. South Shore is committed to social justice, multicultural education and constructive action that builds community within the school and supports the community outside the school.
The educational program emphasizes a collaborative, team approach to instruction and learning, and places significant value on the provision of individualized support and instruction, tailored to the unique needs of each student. These guiding values – collaboration and personalization – coupled with the primary goals and attributes that follow, were the foundation upon which the architectural design was based.
Learner-Centered Environment – provide spaces for interdisciplinary and project-based learning in a flexible environment that recognizes and fosters individual student achievement.
Safe, Personalized Learning Community – create an environment in which each student is known and valued by the adults and other students in the school and which meets each student’s social and academic needs.
Program Adaptability – allow for flexibility of space, time and systems so that programs are adaptable and changeable as student and district needs evolve.
Community Connectivity/Learning Partnerships – provide access and spaces for parents, community residents and community resource agencies to support and supplement the school’s educational programs and mission.
Collaborative – enhance community and collaboration through the incorporation of shared spaces and design features that emphasize the purpose and mission of the school.
Aesthetics – create a warm and inclusive entry and comfortable, casual spaces that inspire students, convey a sense of place and invite community participation.
Safety – promote school safety and security through the design of space that allows students to be known and recognized by adults, facilitates relationships, eliminates alcoves and incorporates light and transparency throughout.
District-wide design goals, which encompassed the South Shore project, emphasize provision of a wide variety of learning settings arranged in groups or teams. Under this model, teams are comprised of students and teachers creating a single community of learners, designed to facilitate personalized instruction and student relationship building with adults and peers. Each learning community is envisioned to provide communal instructional spaces that are flexible to accommodate a variety of group sizes, activities and teaching methods.
The center of the design solution for South Shore K-8 School is, literally, a circle – a symbol of the sense of inclusive community the SDT hoped to embody in the school’s design. This two-and-one-half story high, drum-shaped space, known as The Commons, is used for gatherings and performances, and as the school cafeteria, and is the central crossroads of traffic as students travel to and from classrooms, meals, the gymnasium, library, art and science rooms and the school’s main office. In short, this space is common ground.
Evocative of the Northwest Native American drum circle tradition, the Commons embodies community and inclusiveness, and provides a welcoming environment for unification and connection of students, staff, parents, visitors and the community. A central skylight bathes the space with natural light and retractable glass doors link it to an outdoor plaza, facilitating the integration of interior and exterior spaces.
The Commons is on a north-south axis with the Main Entry, permitting a clear and unambiguous sequence from the drop-off zone where parents can watch children enter the building. The school office is directly adjacent and visually connected to the Main Entry. Safety and security are enhanced with this central point of entry supervised by the adjacent administrative offices. All other exterior access points are exits only, unless supervised. Well-lit, open spaces and clear sight lines further contribute to environmental safety and security.
Small class sizes and active parent and community participation support a unique educational environment for students of South Shore K-8 School. The design’s more innovative elements encompass the non-traditional organization of instructional spaces, and the variety of educational space types. High ceilings create volume and an energizing sense of space, yet a sense of place and intimacy for break out areas are preserved with dropped curbs. South Shore was designed to accommodate multiple organizational and instructional models. The school effectively houses the current program, and can be easily transformed to accommodate a more traditional K-8 program, or, should District growth necessitate it, a traditional 6-8 middle school.
Classrooms are organized into seven Small Learning Communities, branching out from the center of the school, each housing six teaching stations that are cloistered around a shared, flexible learning space. Each learning community includes a team area, tutoring space, student and staff toilet rooms and patio that provides opportunities for outdoor learning. Functioning as small communities within the school, the team clusters facilitate stable, close, mutually respectful student relationships with adults and peers and impart a sense of place and safety for students. Each team cluster area includes spaces appropriate for a variety of group sizes and learning activities. Integration of moveable partitions, modular furniture and equipment, flexible utilities, writeable, tackable wall surfaces and wireless technology throughout the school means that spaces can be easily and quickly reconfigured, providing the flexibility to accommodate multiple instructional models.
Built for 1,000 students, the new 134,000 square foot school includes a gymnasium with seating for approximately 750 people, a library, administrative space, childcare facility, food service area and production kitchen. The gymnasium is to the east and adjacent to the Commons, allowing free circulation between the two spaces during large events. The school kitchen and servery are adjacent to these two spaces as well.
Respectful of the SDT’s emphasis on community and connections, South Shore’s design is inclusive and inviting immediately upon entry to the Community Living Room, a concept that was important to the school’s planning committee from the inception of the design development process. This entry space offers a comfortable, casual meeting area in which parents, teachers and community visitors can linger, establishing and strengthening relationships that support the achievement and success of South Shore’s students.
This project was designed to meet the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP) or LEED® Silver Equivalent. Energy conservation methods and environmental quality enhancers, including sustainable materials choices, were significant elements of sustainable design and were identified in an eco-planning workshop held with the SDT as part of the planning process.
The high volume of the central commons naturally enhances ventilation and air circulation and operable windows and a high-performance mechanical system safeguard indoor environmental quality. Air quality is further enhanced through the placement of fresh air intakes high on the building and away from foliage and vehicular exhaust. Daylighting is infused throughout all interior spaces and electric lighting is sensor controlled to be responsive to natural light levels, enhancing operational and cost efficiency and energy conservation.
Extensive use of drought resistant and native landscaping allowed for the elimination of a permanent irrigation system and aid in storm water management as well as safeguarding water supplies. The integration of low flow, water conserving plumbing fixtures with automatic controls further enhances water conservation efforts.