New ‘green’ elementary school ready for its debut

The new elementary school on the Plateau is bright, airy, and filled with appealing colors and shapes. It’s downright beautiful, and the teachers and staff members at Rachel Carson Elementary School last week were a-twitter with unrestrained delight.

  • Friday, August 29, 2008 1:00am
  • News
A worker walks down the upstairs hall at the new Rachel Carson Elementary School in Sammamish. Construction workers

A worker walks down the upstairs hall at the new Rachel Carson Elementary School in Sammamish. Construction workers

The new elementary school on the Plateau is bright, airy, and filled with appealing colors and shapes. It’s downright beautiful, and the teachers and staff members at Rachel Carson Elementary School last week were a-twitter with unrestrained delight.

“The enthusiasm and level of excitement is high,” said Principal Mary Kronin, who was previously at Kirkland’s Franklin Elementary. The staff members hardly want to go home at the end of the day, she noted.

Located adjacent to Inglewood Junior High on a site a bit smaller than the typical elementary school parcel, the new school will open Sept. 2 with an estimated 520 students. Built using many “green” principles, Rachel Carson already has some admirers among neighboring Issaquah School District officials.

Outside the school, underneath a paved play area and adjacent grassy play field, lie a series of geothermal heat collectors, which will provide about 80 percent of the school’s heat. The remaining 20 percent will come from an electrical heat pump or a boiler, depending on what the cheaper option is based on heating costs, district officials said. The building utilizes radiant heating in the downstairs floors, and a new version of a radiator upstairs.

The building has two green roofs, and all water on the site that isn’t absorbed by the roofs will be funneled into infiltration galleries — a first for the district.

“So, no stormwater here will go into the stormwater drainage system,” said Kathryn Reith, director of communications for the Lake Washington School District. Reith gave the Reporter a tour last week.

Although some construction was still underway, the main office was already buzzing, with mail awaiting teachers in their mailslots and staff and volunteers unpacking supplies.

Office Manager Heidi Wobker was filling clean, new wastebaskets with basic supplies for each teacher.

“I am so excited,” Wobker said. “We’re coming down to the crunch time and I think we’re going to have a great team here.”

The project is running on schedule, despite a few minor weather delays, and is slightly over its original budget of $16.1 million. Change orders have increased the cost to about $17.2 million, Reith said.

“Change orders occur because there are always items that aren’t obvious until you get into the actual construction,” she said. “In this case, planning for the school began immediately after the modernization bond was passed in 2006. To get a school designed and built by this fall was quite an undertaking.”

Designed by Rebecca Baibak of Integrus Architecture, the school has a theme of the solar system, astronomy and the skies, the school also features basic shapes such as circles, squares and rectangles in windows, light fixtures, carpet patterns and more. A rainbow of colors running from warm reds and oranges at one wing of the school to cool blues and purples at the opposite wing is apparent in colored, inset windows as well as tiny, sparkling tiles set into some walls. An art installation representing the primary constellations of the night sky will greet people who enter from the front parking lot facing 244th Avenue Northeast.

Inside, many of the classrooms are clustered around a shared common area, so that teachers can collaborate on lessons when it makes sense, or take turns using the extra space for projects.

Natural light pours in through large windows in most of the classrooms and spaces throughout the building.

“It really takes advantage of light without having too much,” Reith said, noting the use of slatted metal overhangs to keep the glare from interfering with what’s going on inside.

The rooms feature operable windows, some ceiling fans and even sensors that tell teachers when the levels of carbon dioxide are too high. Elevated levels of carbon dioxide have been shown to make students sleepy. When the sensor indicates it’s necessary, the ventilation system will kick on or teachers can open windows.

In the library, which has very high ceilings and expansive windows, teacher librarian Tina Ullom, formerly of the Snoqualmie Valley School District, said she couldn’t wait to fill the shelves with books from the new collection.

“It’s going to be a thrill to get all these new books,” Ullom said. “I think to come in here every day will be a joy. … It’s a dream job.”

Wendy Giroux can be reached at wgiroux@reporternewspapers.com or 391-0363, ext. 5050.


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