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Kirkland Has a Brand-New Elementary School That Will Likely Win Over Students and the Community This Fall

When students who attend Peter Kirk Elementary School return to their studies in September, they will be greeted by a school that has been transformed in all but name. The new, larger campus will accommodate 690 students housed under one roof for the first time. Design features include a main office that provides a clear view to the outdoors (visitors will be buzzed in), a commons area that will be used as a lunchroom so that students don’t have to eat in their classrooms and that doubles as a community gathering spot, a new library with a large book collection and access to resources to promote digital literacy, and pods adjacent to the classrooms that provide a shared learning space for guest speakers or group work.

Design Within Reach

On a purely aesthetic note, one design priority was the importance of nature and the desire to bring the outside in. This means the school has a more open and airy design that reflects the features of the landscape. The new building uses natural light to its advantage and smart technology such as auto-dimming LED lighting and motion sensors that will turn lights on and off automatically to realize energy cost savings.

Design principles for the Lake Washington School District facilities prioritize elimination or minimization of one-story designs (such as the old Kirk Elementary building, constructed in 1975), structures designed for a more compact box or cube shape, simple mechanical and lighting controls that are easy to maintain, emphasis on pleasing aesthetics that fit the neighborhood context, and reuse of design concepts across projects. Limited access points at the new school will enhance student safety.

If at First, You Don’t Succeed

While the path to the new school building involves only a few steps for students, the route to achieving the project has been years in the making. It started with the recognition that Lake Washington School District, being the fastest growing district in King County, would need to expand its facilities to accommodate the influx. When three bond measures in 2010 and 2014 failed to earn the 60% approval needed to pass, another tack was necessary. To that end, the Long-Term Facilities Planning Task Force was formed to consider how to address the growing need.

Community Involvement

Working in conjunction with Lake Washington School District, the Task Force, convened from December 2014 to October 2015, was an attempt to engage the community in the school planning process. Some 63 people of 281 candidates were invited to participate, and the group included 41 parents from neighborhood schools, school administrators, a Parent Teacher Student Association member, a Lake Washington Schools Foundation member, business community members, senior citizens and several at-large community members. Town halls held throughout the deliberations helped keep the process transparent and offered an effective way to get feedback.

According to the Long-Term Facilities Planning Task Force Recommendations Report, the group discussed not only classroom space needed and facilities revitalization but also potential construction costs and how to fund necessary projects. Also on the agenda was how to maximize educational outcomes while minimally affecting families. The Task Force’s recommendations were presented to the LWSD School Board in fall 2015.

The Road to Implementation

The challenge then was how to bring the Task Force’s recommendations to fruition. A major hurdle was overcome when a bond measure passed in April 2016 to fund the first set of projects in the district’s “Building on Success” plan, among which was a new school at the Kirk Elementary site. That building project broke ground on March 30, 2018. Local levy funds were also used to enhance student learning by investing in technology and staffing and safety improvements.

It’s Not Over Yet

While the bond measure passed in 2016 addressed Lake Washington School District’s most pressing concerns, more will need to be done as the city’s population increases. Consider these facts from the Task Force Report. Historically, enrollment in the 1990s was declining and remained flat through most of 2010. The focus then was on the issue of aging facilities.

However, enrollment began increasing in 2010, and the district initially attempted to address this by reconfiguring schools to K–5, grades 6–8 and grades 9–12. Still, the growth continues; by 2021, the district is expected to have more than 3,000 more students than the 2014-15 enrollment of 26,700. By the 2029-30 school year, enrollment is expected to grow to more than 32,000 students.

What this anticipated growth means is that projected district enrollment will outstrip current capacity considerably. Certain measures such as adding portables, using a year-round multi-track schedule, and double shifting (two shifts of students attending one school per day) are being considered along with other ideas. However, it is likely that more or remodeled schools will be necessary to avoid overcrowding, especially as this growth comes at a time when the trend is toward class-size reduction, which could place even more demands on the district’s existing facilities.

Looking Ahead

Among the items recommended in the Task Force Report are the rebuild or replacement of various high schools, middle schools and elementary schools across the district. Phase 1 of the Juanita High School rebuild and enlarge project is scheduled to open this fall, the newly built Redmond Ridge Middle School will accommodate 900 students when it opens in September, and the Margaret Mead Elementary rebuild and expansion promises capacity for 690 students. Expected need by 2021-22 is an additional 2,618 seats for elementary schools, 1,104 seats for middle schools and 1,332 seats for high schools.

Whether the community will continue to support additional bond measures for school building projects is an open question. But for now, Kirkland has a much-needed new elementary school, and that, along with all of the other district building project successes, is cause for celebration.

The New Peter Kirk Elementary at a Glance

Architect: Studio Meng Strazzara

Contractor: Lease Crutcher Lewis

Address: 1312 Sixth St., Kirkland

Square footage: 78,000

Capacity: 690 students

Space configuration: 30 standard classrooms plus music, art and science rooms, ELL/SN/special education, library, cafeteria/commons, gymnasium and outdoor covered play area

Estimated project cost: $44,987,000 (includes construction costs of $26.5 million in 2016 dollars, $12.7 million in non-construction costs and $5.7 million in expected construction inflation)

Opening: Sept. 3, 2019, with a grand opening celebration to follow in October