Marysville Getchell High School Campus
DLR Group - Seattle
Grand Prize Winner 2011 Education Design Showcase

Project Fact Sheet
Facility Use: K-12 High
Project Type: New Construction
Category: Whole Building/Campus Design
Location: Marysville, WA
District/Inst.: Marysville School District
   Dr. Larry Nyland
Completion Date: August 2010
Design Capacity: 1,600 students
Enrollment: 1,235 students
Gross Area: 195,000 sq.ft.
Space per pupil: 122 sq.ft.
Site size: 43 acres
Cost per student: $53,125
Cost per sq.ft.: $436.00
Total project cost: $85,000,000
Building construction cost: $63,000,000
Site development cost: $7,000,000
Furniture & equipment cost: $2,000,000
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This project exemplifies one of the most incredible turnarounds in educational history. After a state-record 49-day teacher strike, low  graduation rates, enmity between the community and school board, and school overcrowding aggregated over years of bond failures, the Marysville (Wash.) School District and community rallied under the leadership of a new superintendent (the fifth in five years). They united to redirect energies toward student learning. Five years later, Marysville can boast a 27% increase in graduation rates and having one of the most innovative and award-winning campuses in the nation.

The new Marysville School District superintendent knew another high school campus was needed when he joined the district in 2004. Having inherited the biggest high school in the state and a system that was shoe-horning students into portables, business-parks, and an old YMCA, he needed to engage the community, reinvigorate teachers, and inspire public confidence in the school system. Putting together a design team of architects, planners and an educational strategist well-versed in community engagement and educational facility design, he empowered his community to realize results.

Under his leadership, District administrators traveled coast-to-coast to experience first-hand successful strategies of peer districts. The District engaged students, parents, teachers, Board members, civic, faith and Native American tribal leaders to garner input, share research, and build an esprit de corps that could move mountains. Their approach resulted in five board-adopted Guiding Principles for Design that are now evident in the campus.

• Relationships at the Center - Through extensive transparency and collaborative spaces, the design blurs boundaries between teachers, students, school and community such that students feel known, valued and inspired to perform at their highest potential.

• Focused Learning – Student learning drives all decisions. Student work and achievement is immediately visible. There are no corridors or hallways. Instead, rooms are connected by learning and social spaces. Exterior connections between buildings are treated as learning opportunities. Hands-on, interest-based, collaborative experiences allow students to experience success on a daily basis.

• Identity and Purpose – Marysville Getchell’s program consists of four high schools (HS) and a Campus Commons. Each HS (Biomed Academy, School for the Entrepreneur, Academy for Construction and Engineering and International Communications) expresses its unique identity through spatial configuration, graphics, furnishings and a layout that meets its educational mission.

• Community – The design facilitates community at varying scales for each high school. The campus also serves as a center of community through local partnership and globally through technology and sustainability.

• Accountability - Each high school boasts its own self-supporting building which is small enough in population, and transparent enough in design, to ensure all students are known and all adults are held accountable.

Plan, Then Design

Building upon the Guiding Principles, an architect and educational planner were hired to create educational specifications and design the new high school campus. The team tested design concepts against multiple educational scenarios consistently using the Guiding Principles as a filter for all decisions.

The design team engaged two primary groups in the planning and design process: the Core Team, consisting primarily of administrators, and the Concept Development Team, an expanded group of community members, teachers, staff, counselors, and students.

Planning and conceptual design spanned four months. The process kicked off with a Visioning Workshop for the Core team to outline the project parameters, scope and schedule. Other key planning and design events included:

• Programming Workshop with the Core Team – the team compared three different high school campus models and narrowed the focus to one preferred planning model that everyone agreed supported the five Guiding Principles.

• Three-day design workshop with the Concept Development Team – the design team collaborated with stakeholders to define three different conceptual options.

• First Community Open House – following the design charrette, the district displayed the high school campus design concepts to gain feedback from the public, district faculty and staff, and students.• Design Workshop – the design team consolidated comments heard during the community open house and returned to the Concept Development Team with two different approaches to the campus layout and form.

• Second Community Open House – the district shared the design concepts to the community a second time, again receiving valuable feedback.

• Focus Groups – designers also moderated several focus groups of teachers and students. These focus groups were integrated, interdisciplinary teams so designers could focus on how people would build relationships and learn in specific environments, not personal wants. These insights were used to continue developing the design concept and to create the initial draft of the educational specifications.

Aware that involvement of students was critical, the team engaged students every step of the way. High school interns worked with the architects, student focus groups helped form each HS’s identity, and a wheelchair-bound student conducted an ongoing American with Disabilities Act (ADA) analysis. Bringing attention to the emotional experience of those who are “differently-able” this young woman was eventually employed by the architect to offer greater insights, including helping with furniture selection. Her story was published as an article in the American School Board Journal, documenting a student’s experience with the design process.

A School at the Heart of Change

Steeped in Nature. The Marysville Getchell High School Campus site is characterized by steep grade changes from east to west, extraordinary views, and abundant trees and understory. Wanting the buildings to touch lightly upon the landscape, each HS integrates into the existing topography and strategically takes advantage of natural light and views, creating seamless connections between nature and the interiors. Mindful that buildings would need to be arrayed to take full advantage of both, the Core Team and designers were committed to saving as much of the vegetation as possible.

Campus Setting. The HSs are sited in a park-like setting. Each acts independently, and feeds a Campus Commons that includes food services, a health and fitness center, indoor running track, and social spaces. Students spend most of their day in the comfort of their interested-based school. Yet much like a university setting, they can choose to remain in their school during lunch or breaks, or they can walk to the Campus Commons. Each HS building is designed without corridors to utilize all space for learning. Students reinforced the decision to dedicate more space for education when they supported not having lockers.

Flexibility and Adaptability. Buildings are designed using a “shell and core” concept which locates the seismic and load-bearing steel structure and most plumbing out to the exterior walls, routes electrical and HVAC through floor and ceiling, and allows interior walls to be easily reconfigured over time to adapt to changes in educational program. With the addition of interior windows, movable walls, furniture on wheels, and ubiquitous technology, the design extends to allow for dynamic and integrated learning opportunities.

Cognizant that technologies, interests, and priorities change so quickly that many school campuses are obsolete on the day they open, the team critically reexamined the core functionality of educational spaces to design a relevant, flexible, and adaptable campus. This theory was reinforced when late in the process the team learned that one of the theme-based schools was unsubscribed. No problem!  The building was quickly readapted for its replacement.



Preserving wetlands, old growth trees and forest understory was paramount to the siting of the school. Befitting its high school educational model, the school is composed as a campus of distinct three-story structures reduced the total building footprint and minimized site impact while maximizing landscape preservation. Connected by boardwalks, the buildings nestle into the trees and sloping topography, while their orientation maximizes daylighting. 

An outdoor amphitheater, decks, and viewing platforms provide endless learning opportunities where students, staff, and visitors engage in social, professional, and educational interactions.


This project integrates significant energy reduction and efficiencies systems. Rather than using a mechanical cooling system, a sustainable approach of operable widows and shading by the forest canopy is used to cool buildings. Occupancy sensors and dimmable lights are installed in classrooms and offices. All air handling units are set to economizer cycles and hot water tanks are minimized.  A high-efficiency HVAC system was selected to exceed local energy code requirements by more than 20 percent.


The design team focused intently on durability and ease of maintenance, choosing roofing and carpeting products with significant 20-30 year warranties. Polished concrete flooring was employed in high traffic areas and ceiling materials were minimized through design choices to expose ducts and ceiling structure. The insulated window units are regionally fabricated and local materials and manufacturers sourced.


Storm water runoff is significantly reduced by thoughtful design elements and the use of pervious materials. Wood mulch and crushed stone paths follow the natural contours of the landscape through the campus. Water permeable grid paving products are used in other hardscape elements, while parking lot sizes are reduced to minimize paving and encourage the use of public transportation and ride sharing.

In addition to the inclusion of rain gardens in the parking lots, two school campus buildings return roof water run-off to the surrounding wetlands rather than the storm water systems.  Buildings feature dual-flush toilets in staff restrooms.

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)

The design creates an interior experience that connects students, staff, and visitors to each other, and also to the verdant, natural surroundings. Each high school building is designed without a corridor; learning areas are planned instead around commons and living room spaces. Unimpeded by walls, light penetrates the interior through many large windows, while views of the outside from within are equally uninterrupted.  Sunshades minimize glare through operable windows.

In classrooms, offices, and labs, dimmable lights and task lighting allow users to adjust light intensity. The use of low-emitting materials maintains healthy air quality, while carbon dioxide sensors in classrooms provide staff a reliable means of gauging room stuffiness.

The buildings each satisfy Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP) acoustical requirements, using acoustic gypsum board ceilings and walls to deftly muffle the ever-present ambient sound within an inspired, vibrant high school.

Marysville Getchell High School Campus – A New Type of High School

Students are placed in the engaging and supportive spaces they deserve, with the rigorous and relationship-based instruction they crave, and with opportunities to connect with the world around them. Exhilarating “aha moments” are now filling their days. They are astonishing us with their focus and wowing us with their accomplishments.

Quotes from parents, students and community members about the Marysville Getchell High School Campus:

“Very interesting concept.”

“The students have a choice that will give an opportunity to start a career. Very impressed!”

“I like that each school is complete in itself. Beautiful campus.”

“Nice open space.”

“Nice job, nice to see our money was well spent.”

“Wish I was 16. Hope my daughter transfers for her senior year.”

“Will be disappointed if our son doesn’t choose one of the four areas of interest here!!”

“I like the college campus feel.”“Very nice!! The children who attend this school are very fortunate.”

Project Description:
1) Control of Institution: Public
2) Type of Institution: Traditional; Other (High School Campus)
6) Community: Designed for Community Functions (High School Campus)


Methodology & Standards:
District/Institution Decision; First-Cost; Life-cycle Costs

Funding Method(s):
Primary Source: Primary Source: Revenue Bonds

Project Delivery Method(s):
Other (General Contractor/Construction Manager)

Sustainable/Green Design:
Principles Followed: Other (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd)
Site Selection and Development: Stormwater Management (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd); Heat Island Reduction (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd); Building Orientation (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd)
Energy Efficiency and Conservation: Energy Efficiency (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd); Building Automation/Energy Management Systems (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd)
Materials Use: Sustainable Materials Selection (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd)
Indoor Environmental Quality: Use of Daylighting (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd); Electric Lighting Systems/Controls (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd); Acoustics (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd); Indoor Air Quality (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd)
Commissioning: Building/systems have been commissioned (Washington Sustainable School (WSSP) - voluntary/not req'd)


Associated Firms and Consultants:
Educational Planning: BrainSpaces
Interior Design: DLR Group
Landscape Architecture: Cascade Design Collaborative
Construction/Project Management: Construction Services Group (ESD 112)
General Contractor: Absher Construction Company
Structural Engineer: Absher Construction Company; DLR Group
Electrical Engineer: Coffman Engineers
Mechanical Engineer: DLR Group
Civil Engineer: SCE, Inc.
Acoustical Consultant: BRC Acoustics
Technology Consultant: BRC Acoustics
Food Service/Kitchen Consultant: JLR Design Group
Cost Consultant: Robinson Company
Other: Architects of Achievement (educational consultant); Osborne+Marsh (graphics)

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