High school plans unveil a light-filled structure | Editorial

There’s much about the Vashon Island School District’s first full, formal iteration of a new high school to appreciate. If the design and construction team can deliver this building on time and on budget, it will provide, it appears, a structure that is at once both artful and functional.

The building’s functionality includes classrooms that are larger than the current crowded ones and that will be clustered according to various subjects. Math and science classes, for instance, will be adjacent to the large fabrication center (a fancy name for what many of us think of as shop), creating an arena where math, science and technology — both academic and applied — could unfold in the same corner of the building.

It includes an administrative office with sight lines into the courtyard, parking lots and commons. Principal Susan Hanson has often noted the “porous” nature of the current high school, a design feature that makes it hard for administrators to track students’ comings and goings. This design will allow students some outdoor space, while attempting to make the campus less porous.

The library, a second floor space with stairs leading down to a light-filled study commons, offers room for a new kind of learning and teaching style — one that accommodates a variety of information-gathering tools and team-based learning practices. It feels like a very 21st-century space.

Functionality can also be found in the way certain spaces play dual roles, in the economy the designers have employed to achieve this functionality and in the effective use of outdoor space. 

But this building, it appears, is not without its beauty and grace.

Large windows in the cafeteria and study commons will not only create passive solar but also a light-filled connection to the outdoors that Islanders need in the long, gray months of winter. Second floor hallways with views down to the courtyard and the common areas seem dramatic and interesting. Small public spaces exist throughout the building to allow for teamwork and interaction.

Our only concern remains with the theater. We continue to question the fact that the high school and Vashon Allied Arts are pursuing very similar paths on what could become a nearly shared timeline a mere half-mile apart.

The high school’s new theater will be 272 seats; VAA’s will be 300. The high school’s study commons will double as a spacious lobby for community events; VAA’s project also includes a large and spacious lobby that could serve the community. 

Our wish is that the school district and VAA could sit down and not simply compare notes but make meaningful changes in their projects that address the Island’s enormous need for performance space while reflecting the fact that this is a small Island with limited resources and a deep environmental ethic. 

Were that to happen, we will have achieved something truly remarkable.


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