LETTER | Hall's Statements are Incorrect Regarding Juanita High

Editor:

Once again Paul Hall, the retired architect and AIA Emeritus, incorrectly asserts that the 45-year-old Juanita High School building as well as other aging schools in the Lake Washington School District can be renovated at a cost that would be “a fraction of the cost of replacement.”    

Further, Hall wrongly claims the School Board relied on the advice of public relation consultants instead of “hiring an unbiased team of independent experts in school design” to analyze facilities and make recommendations.    

Neither of these statements made by Hall are correct.   Here’s why:

The Juanita High building is so dysfunctional that even a large-scale renovation effort would still leave it far short of the recommended educational and building standards for modern secondary schools.      

As is well documented, the Juanita High building has many problems, such as the lack of bathrooms, an insufficient capacity for electrical wiring, an inefficient furnace, classrooms poorly aligned with heating and ventilation systems, ensuring security in a building with too many entryways, a leaking roof and the near total lack of natural light.  

Perhaps the biggest sticking point is the school’s basic structure.  The school’s one-and-a-half story structure cannot accommodate a new second story.  And only with great difficulty could the school be aligned and connected to a standard multi-story addition. 

In contrast to Hall’s claim that the cost of renovating would just be a “fraction of the cost of replacement,” a 2016 study of renovating versus replacing Juanita High School found quite the opposite:  the estimated cost of renovating Juanita High School ($85,600,000) was about $3.14 million more than the $82,460,000 estimated cost of replacement.  

The main authors of the study, McGranahan Architects, found that the school’s significant structural constraints would make it extremely difficult and very expensive for a renovation project to fully: 1) provide the proper space and configuration for secondary education programs, 2) optimize the building’s use of energy and other resources, and 3) meet current safety standards for school buildings.  

As the authors conclude, “A modernized [renovated] facility does not meet stakeholder and community expectations.  The opportunity to dramatically improve the efficiency and architectural presence of the school is most likely in the new-in-lieu [replacement] scenario.”

Of course McGranahan Architects, the main author of the study, is not a public relations firm.   In its more than 40 years of existence, McGranahan Architects has designed and built many schools in this state. 

It’s also important to note that one of McGranahan’s principals, Mike Slater, served as the president of the AIA Washington Council in 2014.   For the record, the AIA – the American Institute of Architect – is the nation’s leading professional association for licensed architects.  The AIA promotes excellence in design and construction and provides continuing education to its members. 

Participating with McGranahan Architects in the study were OAC Services, Inc. and Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB).  These two well-known, well-established, and well-credentialed firms provided construction management information and cost estimating services, respectively.    

The School Board hired this same group of experts to conduct the renovate-vs-replace studies of two other aging schools, Peter Kirk Elementary and Margaret Mead Elementary.  As a taxpayer, I feel confident in these experts’ recommendations to replace rather than rebuild these two elementaries as well as Juanita High School.  

My understanding is that Paul Hall was the key architect for the original Juanita High building.   The original building was impressive and innovative.   Massive wooden trusses spanned the giant common area, the signature and symbolic element of the open-concept school that was once Juanita High.    

Our community should be grateful to Paul Hall for his remarkable contribution. 

But the subdivided common area and lowering ceilings now hide these trusses and block the skylights.   The building has done its duty and then some.

It’s time to let go and move on.   As Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO, advises, “Never love something so much that you can’t let go of it.”

Finally, as a parent, community member, and pragmatist, I would also like to point out that opposing every school bond on the premise that it does not do enough to relieve overcrowding only adds to the problem of overcrowding. 

Essentially, in pursuit of perfection nothing gets accomplished.  Our schools have urgent needs, our kids are being educated in places not well-designed for learning and the problem is only getting worse.

Yet, there is good news.  Thanks to the plan developed by the district’s Long-Term Facilities Task Force, we can remedy the overcrowding and improve the learning environment in a fiscally responsible manner.  All possible without raising the tax rate for schools.   The first step is to pass the April 26th school bond.  

Please join me in voting YES by April 26th.

Sincerely,

Barbara Billinghurst