Seattle Academy’s ‘vertically-oriented middle school’ set to rise above 13th and Union

17202880_1428918773826074_1539814008439652710_nSchools remains a growth industry on Capitol Hill. With a live stream of the building-crunching action of the start of demolition on the school’s Facebook page, Seattle Academy began construction activity Tuesday on its new $48 million Cardinal Union building on E Union just up from 12th Ave.

The Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, a private school for grades 6-12, will be expanding its presence with what is being touted as the “first vertically-oriented middle school in Seattle.”

The school opened in 1983 and started out in space leased from Temple De Hirsch Sinai. Over the years, they’ve been raising funds to purchase and construct their own buildings. The new five-story building starting this week marks the last big project for the time being, said Doug Ambach, the school’s director of operations.

The school owns most of the block bounded by 12th and 13th avenues and Union and Spring streets, save for a warehouse space along 12th. The construction will largely be taking place along 13th Ave and around the corner onto Union, Ambach said. It will mean pedestrian blockages along those streets. The construction should not impact the school’s 12th Ave face. Plans call for the project to wrap up in time for the start of the 2018 school year.


The building currently on the site had been used largely as storage space. When completed, the new LMN Architects-designed Cardinal Union building will house 70,000 square feet of space including classrooms, a gymnasium and a rooftop field which could be used for PE or sports practices. It is expected to house the entire 276-student middle school program for grades 6 to 8.

The building will be clad in a mix of grey- and cream-colored bricks, “which will fade from dark to light vertically along the façade.”

Bricks will wrap the building and transition to expanses of glass at the community learning spaces revealing the student activity within. Exterior red metal sunshades will provide colorful relief against the brick backdrop. Inside, the community learning spaces are tied together by a ribbon of faceted panels on feature walls and ceilings of each space as they weave through the building, providing visual continuity from the upper floors, through the building, and out into the neighborhood.

During construction, middle school students will continue to attend classes at the temple. After it is complete, Ambach said the school does not plan to increase enrollment beyond the current 787 students across all grades. Tuition at the school is around $30,000 a year.

Ambach praised the school’s relationship with the temple, but said the current setup wasn’t ideal. The classrooms at the temple were built in the 1920s and lack sufficient space for the sorts of group activities common in modern education. The new construction will also allow for even more modern amenities, such as a maker space for building robots, and a music room.

Beyond that, it will allow the school to consolidate its middle-school activities. Previously, middle school students would need to walk from the temple to the school campus for some classes. That will be eliminated under this plan. But the cross-neighborhood walks won’t completely go away. High school foreign language classes are taught at the temple, and will continue to be, so older students will still need to go back and forth.

CHS first reported on the SAAS project in January 2014 as the school was still in the midst of its capital campaign to raise money needed for the construction. Over the years, CHS has reported on several major construction projects at the various private schools around Capitol Hill. Occasionally, even Seattle Public Schools gets in on the action. A $17.6 million renovation of 20th Ave’s Meany campus is expected to be complete in time for the 2017/2018 school year.

While the SAAS project may create Seattle’s first “vertically integrated” middle school, it won’t even be Capitol Hill’s first campus that is as stall as it is wide. Capitol Hill’s Northwest School unveiled its new gymnasium +theater +cafeteria +sports field above E Pike in January 2014.

This SAAS project marks the second phase of a two-phase, $70 million construction project for the school. The first part, the Stream building at 13th Ave and Spring, featured a science focus and opened in 2015.

When the new project is complete, it will add underground parking, along with an underground student drop-off which will have its entrance and exit on Spring.

In the near term, at least, Ambach says the school will likely settle into the new facilities before considering anything else.

“There’s not another big project like this on the horizon,” he said.

The warehouse space on 12th, the only parcel on the block the school doesn’t own, is in the midst of being purchased by the school, according to the SAAS website. That purchase should be completed by in 2019. The school has not made official plans for what it will do with that property once the school owns it. The school also owns the building housing the Mother’s Place daycare, and its website says it has no plans to alter that relationship.

You can learn more about SAAS and the Cardinal Union building at saasrising.org/cardinal-union.

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