Northwest NEWS

December 4, 2000

Front Page

Civic Center Master Plan: what citizens said, what's ahead

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by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   It's one of the last standing historical landmarks in Woodinville. Many drive by the quaint brick building regularly without giving much thought to its history or its future. Even so, the Woodinville School on NE 175th has played an integral part in Woodinville's past and will have a major role in its future. Originally a frame school, it burned to the ground in 1908. The following year, it was rebuilt with bricks from Woodinville's Superior Brick and Tile Company. And now, 91 years later, the red brick schoolhouse is one of the centerpieces for Woodinville's Civic Center Master Plan.
   City Hall has operated out of the Woodinville School since 1993 when the city incorporated. The old schoolhouse and ball fields were owned by the Northshore School District until late 1999. After that, they were turned over to the City under a $6.46 million installment sales agreement approved by the City Council.
   Once the acquisition was made, Greg Waddell, an urban planner for Carlson Architects, was hired by the City to help develop a future plan for the ten-acre site where the Woodinville School, the C.O. Sorenson School behind it and adjacent ball fields sit. This site is known as the Sorenson property and is the focus of a future civic center.
   Early next spring, City staff will move out of the Woodinville School and move into the new City Hall currently under construction on 133rd. The Sorenson School will be turned over to the City after the completion of the new Early Childhood Center behind Westhill Elementary in Bothell. Construction for the childhood center begins in January and will be the new school for the special needs students now attending Sorenson.
   Due to these upcoming moves and vacancies, the City has been asking Woodinville's citizens to help them decide how the Sorenson property should be developed. And after sorting through a copious amount of data reflecting citizens' priorities for the property, Waddell foresees development in three phases.
   First phase, he said, is re-development and preservation. "We're recommending that the old brick building stay. And we're recommending that the green space‹where the ball fields are now‹remain as an open space," Waddell said. "We feel that green space across from Wilmot Park is very important," he added.
   Waddell said that minor improvements to the first floor of the Woodinville School will go in right away as it will be used as an annex for Parks and Recreation programs in the fall of 2001. Parks and Recreation plans to open a front office in the building to handle registration for the fall' s programs and use the rest of the space to provide recreation classes and activities. Until improvements on the second floor satisfy the Fire Marshall, only the first floor at the old schoolhouse will be used. By September 2001, the Parks and Recreation Dept. will be able to accommodate some community uses of the rooms.
   "The building has some major systems that need to be overhauled, but those costs need to be balanced against new construction and phasing options," said Parks and Recreation Director Lane Youngblood.
   The second phase of the master plan comes into play when the Sorenson School becomes vacant, sometime by the fall of 2002. The school, made up of four buildings with different sized rooms, is being analyzed now for possible future uses. For now, the consultant is looking into all possibilities and will present the various options to the City Council. Of the 37,000 square feet available at Sorenson School, Waddell said, "We're going to take that floor plan and set up alternative uses."
   The third phase entails a long-range plan, possibly 3 to 10 years down the road. In this final phase, the Sorenson School may be taken out and a new community center built in its place.
   But before any improvements or developments could be placed on the drawing board, Waddell needed to hear from Woodinville's citizens in order to know what they wanted for the Sorenson property. First he met with the Parks and Recreation Commission, and the stakeholders who have an interest in the property, at an open house in August. Following the open house, he met with three focus groups ‹ seniors, teens and people who work with the special needs population ‹ each at a different time. With a big notepad in hand, he wrote down everyone's comments as each focus group responded.
   The seniors were first. They offered their comments at Brittany Park, though many reside in various Woodinville locations. "The primary thing they want right away is an office and telephone. So they can have some presence," Waddell said. The seniors do not have a permanent facility in Woodinville and would like to have a room for exercising and dancing.
   The special needs focus group was next on Waddell's agenda and they met in Council Chambers. Parents of special needs students offered ideas on how the City could best serve their children and the rest of the special needs population.
   Waddell learned that non-breakable mirrors in an exercise room and outside fences and hedges and circular trails would create an atmosphere of safety for this group's needs. He learned that the students would like to be read to and need an intimate, quiet room. Also, they would like a place for dance and theater classes and weight loss programs and a social club where they could watch videos and have a meal with others. Waddell mentioned that the overall special needs population in the 25 to 35-year age group is growing and that classes which meet lifelong skills, such as finances and cooking, were also suggested.
   Last, Waddell met with 20 teens at Round Table Pizza. This group listened to Waddell's presentation. "I went through my spiel, my photographs and maps," he recalled. But when he had concluded, his audience remained silent. "Okay, you start," he remembered urging.
   Suddenly, he said, the floodgates opened. The teens said they wanted a place to hang out, play pool or cards and cited the Redmond Firehouse as an example. They liked the idea of an over age-16 dance club and a venue for local bands to play their music and not be hassled about the noise. A place to hold poetry slams, outdoor movies, dramatic performances and a room for music or painting were suggestions high on their needs list. Prompted by a teen who had recently visited London and remembered how "cool" city fountains looked, the idea of contributing to the city's beautification was proposed and welcomed. Waddell said that teens are amenable to an intergenerational program, such as teens teaching computer skills to seniors. And they like the idea of peer group mentoring. Finally, teens said they want to continue being involved.
   "They want to be involved in the design and programming of a teen center," said Waddell.
   With everyone's input compiled, including results of a survey distributed to Chamber of Commerce members, Waddell has the basis to draft a conceptual overview of the site.
   Using drawings of the long-range alternatives, Waddell will present possible uses for the existing buildings as well as discuss existing trails and infrastructures and how they fit in with future plans at the Woodinville City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 in Council Chambers. The public is welcome to participate and offer comments at that time.