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August 25, 2016

New Mount Si High will sit atop 4,800 stone columns

  • Poor soils forced designers to get creative. The 3-foot-diameter columns will filter groundwater drainage and protect against earthquakes.
    NAC Architecture



    From its early beginnings as a small farming community, the Snoqualmie Valley has been home to continued entrepreneurial growth.

    Starting with a boom in logging operations to funding and building their own railroad followed by opening the second all-electric lumber mill in the nation, the residents of the Snoqualmie Valley have established a closely connected community that values progress and is founded on innovation.

    It comes as no surprise that the Snoqualmie Valley School District also maintains a commitment to continual improvement. Their focus on developing and sustaining great teaching in every school not only prepares students for college and their career, but fosters innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.

    So when it came time for the district to rebuild and expand Mount Si High School to accommodate their growing student population, it was this philosophy that drove their vision. They wanted a new facility that supported the long-term educational needs in the valley and celebrated their rich history of innovation and progress. And they needed to partner with an experienced design team to do it.

    Community input

    Image courtesy of NAC Architecture [enlarge]
    Mount Si High is scheduled to begin construction next spring. The school will serve 2,300 students.

    NAC Architecture and the Snoqualmie Valley School District began their initial feasibility evaluation for the project in 2013. The team collaboratively engaged in various studies, preliminary planning and early schematics until 2015, when they embarked on a comprehensive conceptual design for the new school.

    Guided by well-known educational planner Frank Locker, more than 30 committed teachers, students, parents and district administrators came together to apply the district’s vision to reality while accommodating emerging trends in teaching and learning.

    The district also confirmed their design philosophy and vision by using the platform Thoughtexchange to gather input from thousands of interested stakeholders. The result? A forward-thinking design that supports educational, emotional and social needs of each student while serving as an icon for the industrial progress of the valley.

    Half-size site

    The new high school combines a series of small learning communities with centrally located shared spaces that encourage interaction. A progressive, STEM-based environment will give students an interdisciplinary, project-based experience as they prepare for college.

    The original school maintained a separate building for ninth graders to provide an easier transition into high school. This has been extremely well received by students, teachers and parents, and the new school will also have a separate building for freshmen.

    Once complete, the school will accommodate 2,300 students in a 355,000-square-foot facility on a 34-acre site. That’s half the size of a typical campus for this large of a school.

    On top of that, the site is located in a floodway, across the street from a wetland, and down the road from the Snoqualmie River. Needless to say, extremely poor soil conditions are present.

    Because the project will be placing a large facility in such a confined space, a unique solution was necessary to address the site’s compact buildable area.

    The resulting design features three stories of academic programming elevated above one level of partially below-grade parking, maximizing the usable space within tight site constraints. This also created the opportunity for a large open plaza above a portion of the parking level to provide an outdoor gathering place with sweeping views of the Cascades. Additionally, this design requires less construction time than previously anticipated.

    The new facility will be built adjacent to the existing school footprint rather than on top of it, allowing use of the original building for the majority of construction. The five-year phased schedule was reduced to about three since there was no need to coordinate demolition with new construction while school was in session.

    Not only is this a significant time and cost saving for the district, but it creates the least amount of disruption to Mount Si students and staff.

    Stone columns

    Addressing the poor soil conditions also required research and creativity. The soils are prone to liquefaction and will need to support the multistory school structure.

    A series of studies were conducted, including hydrology, wetland, archeological, historical and hazardous materials evaluations. It was determined the best way to support the building was to install a series of “stone columns” — more than 4,800 of them — to reinforce the ground beneath the school.

    The compact crushed rock columns are 3 feet in diameter and will penetrate 51 feet beneath the foundation of the building. The columns will filter groundwater drainage and provide protection against seismic activity. This system is being installed in advance of construction to ensure the site is ready to build in the spring of 2017.

    The new Mount Si High’s design has already been recognized as a comprehensive response to a complex puzzle of challenges. Due to these complexities, a number of phased civil projects are being done ahead of time to prepare the site for construction.

    Demolition of existing residential buildings and playfields is complete, a contractor will soon be getting the site pad-ready, and the stone column system is currently out for bid.

    All this early preparation work will guarantee that the site is pad-ready when it goes out to bid to general contractors in January.

    The Mount Si High School replacement project was born out of an engaged school community that wanted a first-class, 21st-century educational experience for their students, and is being driven by the Snoqualmie Valley School Board’s vision to become the best school district in Washington.

    With Superintendent Joel Aune’s desire to make that happen and a passionate design and project team that supports this goal, the new Mount Si High will truly embody what the Snoqualmie Valley community is known for: forward-thinking, innovation, and progress. And it is a forerunner for a growing trend in K-12 facility design, where creative uses of much smaller sites than what we have typically seen will be paramount for sustainable development.

    Boris Srdar and Matt Rumbaugh are principals at NAC Architecture. NAC Architecture is an award-winning design firm with offices in Seattle, Spokane and Los Angeles.

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