Had you passed by 22107 23rd Drive SE in Bothell, WA about a year ago, you may have overlooked an unremarkable, 45,000-square-foot commercial warehouse in a typical office park, stocked to the brim with supplies and overflow storage. Today, you can’t miss it. The large-box building has undergone a dramatic renovation from modest storage facility to a dream high school.
Hardly a traditional site for a high school, but this high school is hardly traditional. The Secondary Academy for Success (SAS) serves its Northshore School District community as a choice school for grades 9-12. Architecture firm Studio Meng Strazzara’s design rearticulates the former warehouse into a sleek, vibrant, functional educational environment for students whose learning style doesn’t quite fit with customary programs.
Such transformation from warehouse to school building didn’t happen in the blink of an eye. It required visionary leadership by Dan Vaught, the Executive Director of Support Services for Northshore School District, and years of careful planning, inspired design and collaboration with the architectural team.
The SAS educational model is focused on sparking the individual’s desire to learn by fostering a sense of community warmth, supportive mentorship, and freedom of choice. The spacious warehouse interior boasts 28-foot ceilings and encapsulates a sleek collection of educational spaces circulating around a common gathering area—creating a central heart to the school that visually connects learning spaces and bolsters a communal experience. This central core functions as a social commons, stage, dining and assembly area, with movable walls and versatile spaces for group gathering.
SAS Principal Holly Call has been an educator for over thirty years and is “absolutely ecstatic about the sense of community that this building has created.”
“We were scattered about before and now we’re all together as one. I can walk up the grand stairway and see the students, they see me and there’s an all day flow of movement visible from the very heart of the school, the commons.” Principal Call said. She is also thrilled about the reaction that the students have had to the space. “They are feeling honored to be treated with such maturity.”
As the site is in an office-park, the commons has a second purpose: to turn the focus inward as opposed to outward, where the views aren’t the typical ball parks and playfields of more traditional schools. Still, the design allows for plenty of daylight inside SAS walls. “There are skylights scattered throughout the building so everywhere you go it’s flooded with natural light,” said Steve Lee, the architect’s project manager.
This project story is as much about the physical and technical flexibility of the design as it is about fostering a community spirit, says Lee. Today’s students learn in an ever-changing environment of evolving educational models and fast-paced advances in technology. Successful adaptation relies on a highly developed building infrastructure that can flex to meet future demands.
In addition to daylighting, sustainable design features include high-recycled-content materials, daylight controls, high-performance glazing, and the infrastructure in place for solar panel installation.
Operable tackable wall panels in commons areas provide a place for student work to be displayed, and also enable educators to create large or small learning spaces at will.
The interactive nature of the space has been irresistible to students. They’re using the gathering spaces and Principal Call says that new students are getting to know each other more quickly as a result. The architecture has enhanced the ability to communicate, to socialize, and, in turn, to learn.
You might ask why the Northshore District chose this warehouse as the new home for the Secondary Academy for Success, and the answer is unsurprising. As with a family’s budget in challenging economic times, school districts have to do more with less, and it pays to be creative. Districts must evaluate what they need, examine what they have, and make smart choices.
Secondary Academy for Success needed a new home and there were a number of District-owned properties to consider, one of which was the commercial warehouse situated next to the capital improvements office. The adaptive reuse of an existing facility was certainly less expensive than building a brand new school, and since one of the many goals of SAS is to enhance student learning by striking partnerships with local businesses, what better location match than a bustling office park?
The result is a high school with close ties to the business community, providing real-world experience through summer internships, school projects and other entrepreneurial events.
One of the first companies to get involved was McKinstry. As a local leader in energy solutions, McKinstry is eager to expose students to the new “green collar” job market. “Green jobs are a fast growing, innovative sector of the economy where young people can immediately make a difference,” said Adrian Hovey, a McKinstry employee. “We should take every opportunity to encourage students to look at the Green Revolution as a rewarding career opportunity in addition to a great way to contribute to the sustainability of their community.”
Service Learning is a key component of the SAS experience. Principal Call divulges that a program is in the works for the entire student body to clean up some of the overgrowth around green belt areas and wetlands in their new neighborhood. “Being a steward for the community and interacting with the business park is a great experience for them,” she said.
SAS has become a success story describing how a school district and architectural team worked together to make smart choices during a time of economic difficulty. According to Principal Call, the greatest part of working with Studio Meng Strazzara was that they listened to the students in early charrettes and delivered by “playing out the vision of the kids.”
The project has demonstrated that, even during a recession, it’s possible to harmonize a design, a school’s vision and a tight budget so long as you’re willing to think outside the box. Or build inside the box, as the case may be.