Saturday, September 7th at Mount Si High School might best be summed up as a day of celebration and thanks – and the end of a LONG journey for the Snoqualmie Valley School District.
It was the day the district welcomed community members inside the newly rebuilt high school, to see the result of its $200 million property tax education investment.
It was the day district administrators repeatedly thanked the community for trusting it as the steward of that huge investment, and trusting it to build a high school that would meet the needs of all students now and in 50 years.
Superintendent Rob Manahan commented: “This building is more than a facility. It’s our hopes for the future.”
It took a decade to find a solution for the fast-growing school district’s capacity issues. Three times a large bond to build a second high school failed (2006-08). Twice a bond failed to build a third middle school and permanently convert Snoqualmie Middle School to a separated Freshman Campus (2011).
Those failures left administrators wondering what solution the community would finally say yes to.
So seven years ago the district began the task of exploring a new – and more complicated – solution; one that would rebuild the current high school and hopefully unlock that elusive, 60% supermajority lock needed to pass capital construction bonds in Washington State.
But it was complicated.
The Mount Si High School site is in the floodway and considered small for the building size and parking required to house 2,300 students. So architects said build up and put parking underneath.
The soil of the river floodway needed expensive stabilization to meet new, more stringent earthquake codes. So architects said install 4,800 stone columns beneath the surface to support the weight of the tall structure.
Temporary parking lots would be needed – and baseball and softball teams would lose their fields for three years so the building could be constructed while students remained at the old campus.
Many said it was impossible AND too expensive, but the $244 million 2015 bond passed with 62.5% approval. That bond would build a new elementary school, rebuild Mount Si and make district-wide improvements, at last solving capacity issues.
The new Mount Si building was the result of a community vision. A committee – comprised of students, teachers, community members and administrators – met for months to find the right design to make the elevated, 350,000 sq. ft. high school feel smaller and connected to its natural surroundings.
The school is made up of seven buildings. (The 7th, a new Performing Arts Center, will open next year.) Classroom buildings are 3-stories. The CTE building is state-of-the art with all workshop classrooms connected by glass walls and garage doors. There are 3rd story greenhouses making the most of Valley sunlight. The Life Skills classroom incorporates all needed technology and components – and in one central place.
Each classroom wing comes with common, breakout areas with comfortable furniture. No one is lost in the back of the classroom – back rows all have higher desks and chairs.
The new media center is open and bright. And the views, the natural daylight. Let’s just say for all the lack of daylight in the old building, the new building makes up for in spades. The building brings in Snoqualmie Valley natural beauty seemingly where ever you look. Windows are EVERYWHERE.
Space was utilized at every turn. Underneath the large cascading common area stairwells are food services spaces. Outdoor staircases incorporate built-in planters, creating seating areas. The elevated platforms are planted with a sea of sedums and other native plants. Innovative lunchroom tables transform into benches so common areas can be used as meeting and collaboration spaces.
Technology is everywhere, much of it unseen. Each room has large, interactive (think touchscreen) monitors where chalkboards might have once hung. Common areas have what feel like ‘jumbotrons.’ HVAC systems are state of the art, designed to use the least amount of energy possible.
Safety was also at the forefront. When doors are locked after the start of school, the building has just two points-of-entry – at the main office and freshman campus front office. Locking fences keeping outdoor access points secure.
About 1,800 students walked into the new MSHS on September 4th. The school has capacity for 2,300 and a space for a future addition should the need arise.
Saturday, September 7th the community was invited in at last – to judge the end result, to see if it measured up. “Guesstimates” are about 2,500 showed up for the event… and if my own social media feed is evidence, it seems the community was pretty impressed.
Snoqualmie Valley School Board President Carolyn Simpson said:
“We were so excited to join thousands in our community who were able to tour and celebrate our new high school. I spoke with families with infants, older alumni, as well as a 90 year old, and many in between, and they all expressed such joy. I was particularly moved by the number of students and family members with physical disabilities who were very impressed with the accessibility features of this new school. We are so grateful for the support from this incredible community. Thousands of students and staff will enjoy this building for decades to come”
My children were 4, 7, 9 and 11 when the Snoqualmie Valley School District started running bonds to solve capacity issues. They were part of multiple boundary changes, requiring them to change schools man times as the district dealt with overcrowding. Heck, there’s only a couple SVSD schools they didn’t attend over the years.
My kids are now 17, 20, 22 and 24. Only one will get a chance to experience that new Mount Si High School first hand, but the effort was still worth it. Why? Because it was for this community – or what some might call ‘the greater good.’
When community is at the forefront, good things can happen. The new Mount Si High School is proof of that. Enjoy your new COMMUNITY high school, Snoqualmie Valley. Go Wildcats.
Enjoy a few photos below.