Snohomish, Washington

“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 And like Marysville's predecessor, the previous 1970 Machias building was at capacity and out of date.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


Snohomish School District

2025 First Avenue
Suite 300, Seattle, WA  98121

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Kevin Flanagan AIA, Principal In Charge
Matt Rumbaugh AIA, Project Manager, Design Principal
Philip Riedel AIA, Project Architect
Marcia Wall ASID, Interior Designer

Architect of record, if applicable: NAC|Architecture

Interior designer: NAC|Architecture

Civil: Coughlin Porter Lundeen

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



Structural system
Steel frame, with some salvaged wood columns and beams.

Manufacturer of any structural components unique to this project: Verco Celluar Formlock Deck

Exterior cladding
Masonry: Eastside Masonry

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

Elastomeric: Johns Manville PVS 60 mil.

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 frame: EFCO Series 2900

Glass: Guardian SN68 (Triple-Pane Throughout)

Skylights: DeaMor

Entrances: EFCO Series 5800

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

Locksets: Schlage

Closers: Norton

Exit devices: Corbin Russwin

Pulls: Corbin Russwin

Security devices: ACSI

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Armstrong

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

Interior ambient lighting: Pacific Lighting Systems

Elevators/Escalators: Thyssen Krupp Elevator

American Standard, Bradley Wash Fountains, Elkay, Chicago Faucets

Energy management or building automation system: ATS Automation, QAS Green Touchscreen

Photovoltaic system: SunPower