Beware of ‘faddish’ school designs | Kyra Low

Thank goodness the Federal Way School Board has taken a step back. Rather than blaze ahead haphazardly, the board held off on approving designs for Lakeland and Sunnycrest elementary schools.

The architect and district apparently feel the need to make an architectural statement with the new schools. Perhaps that’s an explanation as to why the school district continues to design and build schools that look like a mix between a commercial building and Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP).

Board members have stated that they find the colors bright and cheerful, a good idea for kids.

You want to encourage the kids? Put the crayons in the their hands, not on the walls. Let the individual classrooms be the fun place.

Rainier View Elementary has a fun and whimsical design over its entry and in its foyer. The artwork lets you know it’s an elementary school while retaining the look of a school. It’s an ageless school — it could have been built 10 years ago or 40 years ago (it was actually built in 1992). However, it still looks like a proper school. That is the difference between timeless and faddish, and that is exactly what the bright colors, plastic semi-transparent planes and boxy designs of the new schools should be called: A fad.

Parents have complained in the past about two main issues with the last school: The colors and the lack of a set library. Yet the school district disregards those concerns and brings two new school designs with nearly identical elements.

The school district has already agreed to repaint the bright purple wall at Valhalla Elementary to a more muted purple shade. Yet again, the district’s proposed designs are bright massive walls. They still have the same idea going: Bright walls in colors (hot pink, neon green and teal at Lakeland, for example) that are not meant to go together.

It’s not just the outside of the schools that need to be reworked. The ideas for a free flowing library space at Lakeland don’t promote a quiet workspace, which is what a library is typically used for. This proposed library involves students walking through an open foyer to get to their classes. The design at Sunnycrest Elementary puts the library in two separate locations, one of which is also rather small.

The original plan was to have the board approve the designs at the same time the plans were being unveiled to the public. The public is footing the bill for the schools. Where was public comment time on this one?

The school board members received enough calls from concerned parents and district staff that they voted to delay the decision of approving the designs until the next school board meeting on Feb. 23.

Here’s hoping the designs undergo some serious changes before then.

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