Machias Elementary School
Grading on a Curve: A rural elementary school pays homage to its surroundings with a sinuous form nestled in the landscape.
Architects & Firms
“Who are you?” asked a Machias Elementary School first grader as she ran out of her classroom on the way to recess and spotted out-of-place adults. “We're the architects who designed your school,” said Matt Rumbaugh, the project manager and design principal with NAC Architecture's Seattle office. The girl stopped. Her eyes widened. “Ooooooh.” She seemed impressed. Then, after a pause: “Why did you guys have to change the playground?”
This was the only complaint heard on a recent tour of the K–6 school in Snohomish, Washington. “Visiting our beautiful school?” was the more common phrase from teachers. Most students showed, rather than voiced, their appreciation: cavorting on the playground in T-shirts despite the rain, or curling up with books on beanbag chairs that threatened to swallow the smallest of them. Like the new Marysville Getchell High School, Machias is about an hour north of Seattle—the two are a 15-minute drive from one another, but in different districts. And like Marysville's predecessor, the previous 1970 Machias building was at capacity and out of date. Instead of renovating, the district built a new school on the same property, which opened a year ago. (Riverview, another elementary school nearby, was also demolished and rebuilt on its site with a design by NAC.)
Snohomish is rural, and the community wanted the new Machias to reflect its roots. The resulting two-story structure curves like a stretched-out “S” at the back of a tree-lined field. The front of the school follows an arc formed by canted wood columns that were salvaged from the former Machias and Riverview. “We were able to take that memory of the old school and keep it around in a way that we haven't had the opportunity to do before,” says Rumbaugh.
Inside, the “curve creates a feeling of exploration,” says Rumbaugh, in addition to nestling the school in the site. “I've had teachers tell me that they just like to walk down the hall during breaks to enjoy the experience.” A sculptural ash-wood ceiling can be seen from communal spaces and follows the curve. Its conceals mechanical components, and absorbs sound.
Clusters of four classrooms around a common space create “neighborhoods”—one for each grade—and face north. Teachers and administrators desired more transparency and stronger connections between spaces, and they received both. The library, in particular, is serene and light-filled, as is a joint science and art lab with multipurpose stainless steel tables and project shelves lining the windows.
The old Machias was close to the street, but Rumbaugh and his team buffered the new one with a playing field. “We really felt like it was important to have a rural approach, not to be on the street,” he says. Contemporizing the school to comply with current educational standards while maintaining a connection to the rural environs was the balance that NAC sought to maintain. “I think we did a good job of getting the connection to the land that we wanted,” says Rumbaugh.
Steve Moore, a consultant who oversees the school district's capital projects, says Snohomish is unusual for its dedication to sustainability. “The board has a vision for the district to be pushing the edge of sustainability and bringing it into the classroom,” he says. Rumbaugh agrees: “This school has things that very few do.” Almost everywhere you turn at Machias, there is a subtle environmental lesson. In the bathrooms, confetti-frosting-like partitions are made from recycled plastic milk jugs, and plaques describe their fabrication process. Along the curving hallway, the wall suddenly gives way to a transparent strip, offering a peek into the guts of the building and an explanation of what is there and why. A touch screen at the school's entrance allows students to check up on the building's energy performance—a 100-kilowatt photovoltaic array on the roof of the gym is currently one of the largest operating PV arrays on any building in the state.
On a less didactic level, sustainable strategies are apparent throughout the school. A watercolor swirl of green, red, purple, yellow, and orange sedum covers a green roof outside of the teachers' lounge. The roof helps slow water runoff, all of which is channeled to rain gardens.
“We spent a lot of time figuring out what we wanted learning to look like, not attempting to replicate what we had,” says Riverview principal Tammy Jones, who sat on the joint design committee for both Riverview and Machias. “We looked at how we could ensure that curiosity was a central part of learning. We didn't see learning having to happen at a desk, in a chair.” The results have exceeded her expectations. “A lot of people say a building doesn't matter. It matters.”
Total construction cost: $21 million
Size: 79,778 square feet
Completion date: December 2010
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record, if applicable: NAC|Architecture
Interior designer: NAC|Architecture
Structural: Coughlin Porter Lundeen
MEP: Hargis Engineers Inc.
Geotechnical: Associated Earth Sciences
Landscape: Weisman Design Group Inc.
Lighting: Hargis Engineers
Photographer(s): Benjamin Benschneider, (206) 789-5976,
CAD system, project management, or other software used: Revit
Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: Verco Celluar Formlock Deck
Metal Panels: Morin Metal Siding
Metal/glass curtain wall: EFCO Series 5800
Precast concrete: Puget Sound Precast
EIFS, ACM, or other: Closed-Cell Spray Foam Insulation: BASF Spraytite
Moisture barrier: Henry Company Blueskin
Curtain wall: EFCO Series 5800
Other cladding unique to this project: Exterior Sealer/Anti-Graffiti: Professional Products of Kansas
Tile/shingles: Monier Lifetile Madera Concrete Shingles (used on exterior wall)
Other: Concrete Pavers at roof patio: Abbotsford Concrete Product. Vegetated Roof: American Hydrotech
Metal doors: Stiles Custom Metal
Wood doors: Lyndon Door
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Won Door
Special doors (sound control, X-ray, etc.): Cookson Coiling Doors
Exit devices: Corbin Russwin
Pulls: Corbin Russwin
Security devices: ACSI
Suspension grid: Armstrong
Demountable partitions: Hlifcor (Operable Partitions)
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Westmark
Paints and stains: Rodda
Wall coverings: Koroseal Vinyl Wall Covering
Paneling: Yemm & Hart (Toilet Partitions)
Special surfacing: Walltalkers Tackable Surface
Floor and wall tile (cite where used): Daltile (At Restrooms)
Resilient flooring: Mondo Harmoni Rubber
Carpet: Collins & Ailman
Raised flooring: Action Floor Systems (Wood Gym Floor)
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Wood Slat Ceiling: Rulon, Dry Erase Paint: Rustoleum Dry Erase, Draper Motorized Shades