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October 8, 2008
In Tacoma, “the Castle” has housed Stadium High School for more than a century.
The turreted edifice, built by the old Union Railroad in anticipation of waves of rail passengers visiting from points east, is a watercolor poster for the first Gilded Age. It's the perfect place for a grand chateau-style hotel — on a bluff with a sweeping view of Commencement Bay. But it's not open for robber barons. It's full of local teens.
The economy went bad after it was built in the early 1890s, and then a fire gutted the old Castle it as it stood empty. But it was saved for education, and retrofitted in 1906 with classrooms, offices and a cramped gym and lunchroom.
Stadium High School
Bassetti Architects (design architect) Lorne McConachie, principal-in-charge Don Brubeck, project manager
Krei Architecture (architect of record) (now part of Parametrix) Paul Popovich, Project Manager Jim Dugan, Construction Administrator
Tacoma Public Schools
High School renovation and addition
Site: 12 acres Building: 399,263 square feet
Magnusson Klemencic Associates
Travis Fitzmaurice & Associates
Yantis Acoustical Design
The Berger Partnership
Skanska USA Building
“We appreciate the counterpoint of new to old while applauding the revitalization of a significant landmark. The new modern facility creates a larger campus space while honoring the architecture of the existing building.”
“This contemporary departure makes both buildings shine. The site plan is gracious and inviting. Nice to see that the landscape design was afforded the attention it deserved.”
“(The remodel) draws the impressive historic building, the ‘Castle,’ together with the new structure in a well organized and beautifully lighted campus environment. Achieves more by creating an independent architectural expression for the new building, instead of attempting a contextualist response.“
So it served, for generations of Tacoma's sons and daughters, including Dale Chihuly. There's now a Chihuly grandly displayed in the administrative lobby of the renovated Castle, and a generously sized glass studio for students in the sub-basement, along with studios for print-making, ceramics and multi-media. Art is a big deal at Stadium High.
Now, future artists, scientists, contractors and health care professionals can make the most of their high school years. The new space in the basement is made possible by a completely detached modern addition that brings the high school — and its performing arts and athletic programs — into the next century. It was completed two years ago along with a sensitive and thorough restoration of the Castle itself.
Prior to the project, Stadium High School was bursting at the seams.
According to Principal Jonathan Kellett, extra long breaks were needed between classes because the 2,000 students of Stadium High School needed more time — not only to negotiate numerous stairways in the seven-story building, but to get from one side to the other. The gym and auditorium were undersized, and the kids had to eat in three shifts.
Lavatories were scarce, and staff members had to travel long distances during class time to get to theirs. There was one light bulb in every classroom. On the hallway ceilings, an ethernet cord snaked around the sprinkler system. For assemblies, students had to travel en masse to the nearby Temple Theater, with police escort.
Girls had been participating in sports like basketball throughout the history of the school, but the growth of the school population and new laws mandating equal accommodation for both genders put new pressures on the building. The celebrated band program grew to 350.
The specific space problems of those two groups helped drive the design solution for the renovation and addition, according to Don Brubeck of Bassetti Architects, the design architect for the project. The team worked with students, parents of current and future students, and graduates.
The overall solution was twofold: restore the look and integrity of the proud old Castle while reconfiguring the working spaces inside, and build an addition to house new facilities.
“We took the big spaces out of the building in order to preserve its historic character,” Brubeck said.
The massing of the addition is kept low in deference to the historic building. But there is no confusing 1906 and 2006.
“We wanted to show that it is really an active place, fully engaged in the 21st Century,” said Brubeck.
After some initial reservations, the community agreed. The addition to Stadium High School is very much of the present. A full scale gym and elegantly modern 456-seat theater fit into the 82,000-square-foot addition, along with space for music classes, drafting, dance and shop.
The addition frames the formal courtyard of the Castle, reinforcing the symmetries in the plan of the historic building and plaza. A long glass wall, interrupted by one partial stone wall that reflects the stone at the base of the castle, faces the older structure. Behind that is a common entry that serves the gym and the theater. The theater is distinguished inside by a warm wood wall with a rounded ticket booth and angled entrance. It's visible on the outside in the popped-up fly space.
Inside the historic building, the layout of the main circulation system remains intact, along with the integrity and details of the outer walls and the building's exterior. In some cases, the accretion of many minor and not-so-minor renovations made over the decades was removed so that original partitions and details could be restored to their original beauty.
Corridors follow the historic plan. Formal spaces and entry lobby are preserved, and much of the interior architecture of the old hotel-turned-high school is restored. But in between, classroom spaces are reconfigured for the new century.
“The biggest point is flexibility — so that the building can adapt to the needs of the future,” said Peter Wall, director of planning and construction for Tacoma Public Schools.
The classroom space inside the Castle was reconfigured to accommodate four “houses” in four wings — one on each side of floors two and three. Each one serves as a home base for one of the four grade levels in high school, with classrooms for core curriculum. The top (fourth) floor houses advanced academic and vocational classrooms.
There is a proscenium stage and balconied two-story space in the center of the plan, now used for circulation and occasional gathering. The elegant historic plasterwork has been restored to its former beauty after decades of overuse as the school's only auditorium.
The small, rounded spaces inside the turrets have also been brought back, mostly as intimate seating areas with benches lining the walls. The library, with outer walls restored, has now expanded into the area that once served as the lunchroom in the basement, which actually has views on three sides because of its location on the hillside.
Underneath it all, seismic, mechanical, accessibility features have been slipped into place.
“The building is old — yet it's brand new,” said principal Jonathan Kellett.
And it's healthier. The new forced-air heating and ventilating system gets a lot of badly needed air through the building, fast. Ductwork runs through interstitial spaces between classrooms and hallways.
Kellett remembers the noise in the entry right outside the office, where between-class traffic flows from several directions: “It's a much more quiet building.” But it isn't just the dampened voices. The pinging of the radiators and other sounds from the historic mechanical system are also absent.
Getting the Castle up to seismic code required 16 seven-story sheerwalls, according to Paul Popovich, with the managing design firm and architect-of-record Krei (which has since become a part of Parametrix). These are hidden inside walls — reinforcing steel inside concrete that was poured in through long slits in the upper floors.
Because of the complexity and size of the project, it was one of the state's experimental GCCM (general contractor-construction manager) projects. Popovich thinks this special project delivery system is one of the reasons the project came in on time and on budget despite the skyrocketing cost of steel during design and construction.
While the Bassetti Architects team was working through the programming and public outreach meetings that led to the design of the renovated Castle and the addition, the Krei/Parametrix team was using stacks of old renovation drawings and a tape measure to complete the intricate “as built” process that provides the basis for renovating the structure. Wall thickness is just one of the many idiosyncrasies: they range from 20 inches on top to more than three feet thick at the base. And with an impossible pitch of 27 to 12 on the complex top, re-roofing was a challenge.
“There were so many things that could have gone wrong,” said Popovich. “But in fact, it went very smoothly.”
The renovation and addition were complete in time for the centennial celebration of the opening of Stadium High School in August of 1906. It was the largest high school reunion on record, according to Kellett, with thousands in attendance. Several belonged to the exclusive club of “Golden Grads” — those more than 100 years old.
The Project of the Month is sponsored by the Daily Journal of Commerce and the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The October project was selected with the assistance of landscape architect Brooks Kolb, architect Jon Mihkels, artist Ellen Sollod and architect Paul Wanzer. For information about submitting projects, contact Stephanie Pure at AIA Seattle, (206) 448-4938, or firstname.lastname@example.org.