The doors swung open to the public at Kirkland's new, $85 million Tuesday, a sparkling, high-tech, 214,144-square foot complex designed around five connected "learning houses."
The new high school will officially take in its first students when classes begin Sept. 6—a bittersweet event, perhaps, for the thousands of former students who attended the "old LW," built in 1949.
But for current students, teachers and staff, the new school—replete with solar panels, geothermal heating, new performing arts center, gym and state-of-the-art classrooms—seems to be a step into the modern age.
"It's exciting to be going to something new when we are graduating," said Jessica Brooks, who helped lead a media tour before Tuesday evening's open house and barbecue. "It's like a big bang at the end."
Chemistry teacher Gary Bristow said the old structure had seen better days.
"This is awesome, by the way," he said while getting his new lab ready. "The old building was always 1,000 degrees. It had steam heat and it couldn't be regulated well. I know the old school had memories and people loved it, but they will love this one, too."
Paid for with money from a $436-million bond levy approved by voters in 2006, the modernization project is built around the concept of five learning houses surrounding a commons area that opens up to courtyards.
The idea is to create a comprehensive high school for LW's 1,000-plus students around smaller units that provide a feeling of connection, said Forest Miller, director of support services for the .
Each house will provide classrooms for social sciences, English, math and natural sciences, as well as a central area where lessons can be taught jointly to larger groups.
"It is really a unique community in this regard," said Principal Christina Thomas, who is in her second year at LW. "This will allow for a more personalized approach. In this environment, students get to know the teachers well, and teachers can follow students' progress better."
One of the houses will be the home of the "choice" high school Northstar this school year, which will move when ninth grade is added to the district's high schools in the fall of 2012.
Heavy use of exterior windows and skylights throughout the school allow in natural sunlight, and lots of interior windows on the classrooms provides an openness.
"We want to see learning happening," Miller said. "We have a desire to see education in progress."
The new school features many interesting touches, most of them environmental in nature. Solar panels on the roof will generate 14.5 kilowatts of electricity, enough to power six classrooms, and when that power is not needed in school, it will feed into Puget Sound Energy's grid, providing the district with cost credits.
Rain gardens outside the buildings will reduce runoff into the storm drains. Polished concrete floors will not require waxing. Large, garage-style doors in the food court and commons area can be opened during warm weather.
The brand new performing arts center and stage will be available for rent by the public use when not needed by the school. A culinary arts classroom is equipped with professional natural gas stoves and a large walk-in refrigerator.
A broadcast facility includes a studio and green room. Large flat-screen monitors in the commons area, and each house will display announcements and other school information to students.
"We're really excited," Thomas said.
If you miss the open house, check out the new school and facilities in our photo gallery here.
Editor's note: Several Redmond elementary schools, along with Rose Hill Junior High, feed into Lake Washington High School.