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    How School Communities Provide Input for Construction Projects
    Posted on 12/17/2019
    an example of feedback at an SDAT meeting

    SDAT? What’s That? School Design Advisory Teams Help Guide Major School Construction Projects

    Planning is underway for six major school construction projects across the district. Funded by the Building Excellence V (BEX V) Capital Levy approved by Seattle voters in February 2019, these projects range from school additions to building replacements. Representatives from the schools participate on School Design Advisory Teams (SDAT) to provide input to the construction design process.

    To begin planning for each project, Seattle Public Schools hires an architectural firm. Architects and engineers lead the design efforts for all major construction projects.

    Seattle Public Schools has educational specifications (ed specs) that provide districtwide standards for school buildings and furnishings. These specifications are aligned with the district’s strategic plan, Seattle Excellence. But every school is unique, so it’s important for the architects and engineers to understand the school community and culture.

    The district developed the SDAT process to provide insight and guidance for the school projects. In collaboration with the SDAT, the architects and engineers create a design that addresses the school’s needs and goals while meeting the requirements identified in the ed specs.

    “Seattle Public Schools utilized SDAT throughout the successful BEX IV and BTA IV construction projects, and something similar for earlier projects,” said Director of Capital Projects and Planning Richard Best. “There are other ways to involve the community, but this process provides a solid, consistent, and equitable process across all projects.”

    The SDAT process allows each school community to have input during the planning period for their school. The collaboration results in school-specific educational specifications that meet district standards.

    Representatives from the school community including parents, school and district staff, community members, and construction managers come together to form a school’s SDAT. Some SDATs also include students for part or all of the process.

    “SDAT offers a collaborative design approach with staff, teachers, parents, students, and neighborhood members so the project team can understand what is important and significant to the school,” said Paul Wight, project manager for the Kimball Elementary replacement project. “It gives us the chance to understand the school’s educational approach, how students interact, how the space works for the school’s programs and community partners, and to understand the neighbors’ concerns and desires.”

    photo of people looking at papers on a table

    The architectural design team leads the SDAT in workshop meetings and tours. Over the three- to four-month process, the group identifies the vision, philosophy, and objectives of the school and community. They also provide a voice for the school and community during the pre-design phase.

    “SDAT members act as a conduit to the rest of the staff, teachers, students, and neighbors during the process,” added Wight. “We ask them to gather information and give updates on the design process to their school community.”

    SDAT discussions focus on understanding considerations such as “What makes the school special?,” “Where do students like to gather?,” “How does the school site influence the design?,” “What is the learning culture and existing educational program?,” “Who are the community partners?,” and “How should the school feel when you walk in the door?”

    “I think the SDAT process is wonderful and necessary,” said Brian Fabella, project manager for the Viewlands Elementary replacement project. “It is a great way to learn about school communities. The educational specifications are necessary to establish the framework for the educational program, but they don’t address the intricacies of learning within a community.”

    The standard SDAT includes a series of five workshop meetings; however, many groups require longer discussion periods. In those cases, there may be more meetings covering the same topics.

    • Meeting 1: Project orientation, which includes establishing roles and responsibilities and reviewing the district’s strategic plan and racial equity analysis tool.
    • Meeting 2: School tours to visit recently completed construction projects.
    • Meeting 3: Visioning and goal setting
    • Meeting 4: Conceptual design presentation from the architectural team. SDAT reviews and provides feedback.
    • Meeting 5: Revised conceptual design presentation from the architectural team. SDAT reviews and provides another iteration of community feedback.

    You can see minutes from recent SDAT workshops on the SDAT pages for:

    The sixth project, an addition at Original Van Asselt, has not yet begun the SDAT process.