Repurposed Westside school | SKL Architects

| 19 : 00 – 9 July, 2018 |


The Westside School


Adaptive reuse of a 1970’s church – Westside School designed by Seattle-based SKL Architects is a creative merger of repurposeful architecture.

Westside school planned to serve Pre-K to 8th grade students is a former church – ‘Hillcrest Presbyterian’ which was lying inefficient. Combining it with a nearby church, the entire space was renovated and retrofitted with smart mechanical systems to emerge as a cost-effective and energy-efficient educational facility.

Hillcrest Presbyterian Church

Hillcrest Presbyterian Church built in 1970’s

The arches within the soaring nave were preserved and the spaces within were rearranged to house classrooms, offices and supporting facilities. Sundberg, Kennedy, Ly-Au Young Architects introduced creative spaces to encouraging interaction and heighten curiosity of the creative buds. New additional facilities adhered to the Seattle Energy Code, thereby demonstrating how public buildings can be designed in a way that reduces overall energy consumption.

The Westside school building

Glass structure entrance of the new re-purposed school

From the Architects – 

Westside School, a pre-K through eighth grade school serving 360 students, was about to lose its lease. At the same time, the nearby Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, located in a residential neighborhood southwest of downtown Seattle, found itself in an awkward position. Its congregation had decreased in size over the years, but remained in a large well-loved, but inefficient 1970s-era facility. A plan was born: the church would co-locate with another church nearby and sell its facility to the school to fund ongoing operations. The soaring, vaulted wood roof structures of the church would be resurrected as a school and new home for Westside.

Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, The Westside school in Seattle

Soaring nave and arches of the existing church were preserved

As stewards of the next generation, Westside was committed to extensively reusing the existing church structure and minimizing the embodied energy used in new construction. The church’s soaring wishbone-shaped nave was the departure point for our imagination. Inspired by the soaring nave we preserved the 45’ glulam arches and reconfigured the space to accommodate classrooms, offices, support, lunchroom, and storage, preserving the existing gym.

The Westside School in Seattle

Connecting spaces

The challenge was to connect the existing structure to the new entry foyer in a way that communicates a sense of unity. The architecture provides a range of engaging learning environments. Idea spaces carved into the classrooms provide flex space for spontaneous meetings and informal, smaller, group learning.

Meeting space, Westside School in Seattle

Informal meeting spaces


The Westside School in Seattle

Common outdoor spaces between the two churches

Other found spaces encourage interaction, creativity, and curiosity. The new entry forms a central, transparent gathering and display space where parents, faculty and students convene and connect. The unified structure embodies learning, linking the school’s present with its future and past.

Wooden Staircase

Learning spaces along the stairs


Library learning

Library on second floor

Energy saving –

All aspects of energy savings were looked at in the design. This included lighting, daylighting, HVAC, natural ventilation and future PV panel mounting provisions. Lighting throughout the building is entirely LED, with an installed lighting power density of less than 0.3 W/ft2. After consulting with Seattle’s Integrated Design Lab, carefully oriented and sized skylights were introduced into the nave roof to reduce electric lighting loads in the newly created auditorium and library.

Performance area

Mechanical systems – 

The philosophy for the mechanical system design was a Design For Off™ approach. It was focused on right-sized zonal equipment that can operate independently from neighboring spaces for heating, cooling, and ventilation. New portions of the envelope were built to meet strict Seattle Energy Code requirements. The majority of the gym and nave roofs and walls were replaced and/or re-insulated.

Windows introduced for daylight to reduce lighting load

New classrooms feature operable windows to take advantage of Seattle’s moderate climate. Ceiling fans help evenly distribute the fresh air in classrooms and provide air movement for improved thermal comfort. First school year building operation achieved a measured EUI of 14 kBtu/ft2·yr. The old Westside School building operated at 48 kBtu/ft2·yr, 39 kBtu/ft2·yr of which was space and DHW heating.

The new building is 70% more efficient than the school’s former building.

Kindergarten classroom

Pre-K classroom close to common entrance

HVAC system – 

The architects sought an energy-efficient HVAC system that would not upstage or disrupt the architecture they were preserving. The mechanical engineers proposed a design flexible enough for retrofits, and well suited to multi-zone buildings. The small physical size of the zonal HVAC equipment simplified integration with the existing structure and helped save precious head space, especially on existing lower levels. Space conditioning in the majority of the school was provided by variable refrigerant flow (VRF) heat pumps with ductless indoor fan coil units. The indoor VRF fan coils were placed where they were most effective and run independently of ventilation to maintain occupant comfort.

Compact HVAC on lower levels of the school

When zone temperatures are satisfied, the fans cycle off. The small diameter of the refrigerant piping simplified installation in an existing building compared to a large central air system. Additionally the VRF system provides the school with cooling, a feature often absent in school designs in the region for budget reasons.

Cooling has become more important as the climate in Seattle has changed to longer warmer summers overlapping with the school calendar. This also allows for improved thermal comfort for expanded school programs during the summer months.

Westside School Performance hall and gymnasium – 

Two spaces, the performance hall and the gymnasium, are conditioned by packaged rooftop heat pumps. The auditorium is used less often, so the unit is left in setback mode (no outside air, fans cycle to meet space temperature) most of the time. It’s only put into occupied mode when there is an event in the space. A large low velocity, high volume fan circulates air to destratify the warm air at the ceiling level in the winter months. It also provides air circulation for comfort in the warm months. The gym unit operates on the same schedule as the rest of the school.


Low level windows introduced in the auditorium

Both packaged rooftop heat pumps include demand control ventilation (DCV) controls to limit outside air during the heating season to match occupancy. The HVAC design realized greater comfort than conventional school HVAC systems, at comparable cost, using ductless heat pump technology to shrink fan and heating energy and deliver an efficient building.

Kids reading in school

Reading nook in the school

Westside School is one of the most energy-efficient schools in the Northwest region. It was created with an extremely small HVAC budget, and achieved by concentrating on introducing energy efficiency where it would count the most.

The result is an educational building that easily meets the 2030 Challenge.

Project details – 

Project Name – Westside School |

Location – Seattle, Washington, United States of America

Architect Firm – SKL Architects |

Design assist Ecotope

Envelope – RDH

Project type – Public school, Educational

Construction contractor – Kirtley‐Cole Associates, LLC

Structural Engineer – Quantum Consulting Engineers LLC

Civil Engineer – Pace Engineers

Electrical Design & build – Prime Electric

Geo-technical EngineerTerra Associates, Inc.

Landscape ArchitectThomas Rengstorf & Associates

AcousticsBRC Acoustics

Cost Estimating – JMB Consulting Group

TrafficGibson Traffic Consultants

Photography Credits – © Benjamin Benschneider, © Lara Swimmer

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