Salish Coast Elementary
Architect: Integrus Architecture
Owner: Port Townsend School District
Location: Port Townsend, Washington
The citizens served by Washington state’s Port Townsend School District share a belief in the power of place and its ability to support learning and stewardship. This new elementary school is designed to support those beliefs and reinforce the community’s ties to the surrounding landscape and the network of coastal waterways that comprise the Salish Sea.
Replacing an existing 60-year-old facility, the school has doubled its capacity and welcomes 600 students in pre-K through fifth grade. It is designed to enliven the community’s aspirations through leveraging indoor and outdoor learning environments that provide students easy access to nature and encourage them to explore the natural world. The school is anchored by three overarching goals: place-based collaborative learning, a commitment to community engagement, and recognition of the student body’s intimate relationship with nature. The team was challenged to “leave no child inside,” and the design arranges the school around a linear courtyard with branching pathways that bring students outside and inside throughout their everyday movements.
The school district emphasizes a place-based approach to learning focused on the maritime character and economy of Port Townsend and has a successful history of engaging community stakeholders. The design team built on that rich legacy with this project and worked with a committee of school and district representatives as well as members of the business community, nonprofits and social service agencies, and a number of city departments. The team held workshops from the outset through schematic design and conducted exercises with a committee of teachers in an effort to shape the learning environments.
“There are strong connections between learning and real-life applications. The integration of community partners to maximize the learning experience is wonderful to see.” - Jury comment
Taking advantage of the state’s new Class Size Reduction Measure, the team was able to re-examine standard classroom sizes and relationships. Testing and regular adjustments allowed the school’s flexible learning settings to offer a number of activity zones within their larger framework, while operable walls and unique configurations provide additional flexibility and support collaborative teaching. The school needed to provide a seamless transition on-site while bolstering existing community assets, including a shared garden and walking and bike routes. It was constructed with all students on-site, which required the new building to sit on an upper terrace, away from the street. Play areas were relocated closer to the street to encourage use by the broader community and to incorporate an existing slope into play activities.
Since opening in 2018, the school has had a significant impact. Several groups of teachers have begun working collaboratively and regularly experiment with creative organizations of the learning environments. Its amenities, including the garden that provides farm-to-school programs and food to the greater community, have been well received and are deepening engagement with the school.