Compressed air spurts from a 35-foot hole drilled in front of Mount Si High School. The crane operator used the air to compress the soil and stones being fed into the column, designed to stabilize the new school in an earthquake. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

New Mount Si High School to be built in strong, earthquake-stable footprint

Soon, the site of the future Mount Si High School will show some upward progress, but for a few more weeks, the area will continue to look like a gravel pit.

Earth-moving equipment roams the enormous hole fronting the high school building, along Meadowbrook Way, as two large cranes, one yellow and one blue, drill within the footprint of the future building.

It’s hard to envision the new four-story, 358,000 square-foot high school plus the 400-space parking garage underneath, that’s been under construction since September, but only from this angle.

Underground, where the work has been steady — and ahead of schedule despite the variable weather — the project is well underway, says said Clint Marsh, the Snoqualmie Valley School District construction manager on the project, on a tour of the site last week.

“There’s a lot of money down there,” he added, and a lot of innovation.

The extensive site work, started in December is the installation of 4,200 stone columns, which will not only support the weight of the building, but also keep it stable in an earthquake, as required by the current international building code, noted Ryan Stokes, Snoqualmie Valley School District Assistant Superintendent.

“It’s designed so, if there’s an earthquake, the building will settle consistently,” he explained.

Those columns are what will provide that seismic stability. They are sunk 35 or 65 feet into the ground — the blue crane creates the taller columns, which also provide structural support, and the yellow crane does the shorter ones. All of them are created the same way: a crane fitted with a pointed probe pushes a hole, 3 feet across, into the ground, compressing the earth instead of removing it, down to the required depth. Once the probe comes out, loads of stone are poured into the hole, piling up to the surface.

“The probe is going to pack everything into a cylinder,” said Stokes, “and the stones will fill it.”

Their own weight and the surrounding compressed earth will hold the stones in place, with the help of the occasional blast of compressed air to pack them in tightly.

Contractor Fury Siteworks has been clearing the ground and contractor Hayward Baker has been working at the rate of 30 to 40 columns installed each day, Stokes said, although the district’s earlier expectation was for 20 columns per day.

They are ahead of schedule, Marsh said reluctantly, but “You’re never ahead of schedule, because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next two years.”

“We’re creating the site pad now….What we really wanted to make sure was that the stone columns were installed and out of the way when our general contractor came in to do the building,” Stokes said.

Building construction

The school district selected Spee West Construction of Edmonds as the general contractor, March 7, from three proposals. The company’s bid on the project totaled $157,619,000. Spee West is expected to be on site in mid-April to begin work on the actual building.

Foundation work will follow the same path that the columns were installed, beginning along Meadowbrook Way on top of the former ball diamonds, then wrapping around the end of the football stadium and into the former main parking lot. Demolition of these areas was done last fall.

The new building and gym will be constructed on the current project site. Once the school is opened, projected for fall of 2019, students at the neighboring Freshman Campus will return to the main campus and the building will return to use as a middle school, then the old gym will be demolished and work will begin on the new performing arts center, beginning with the installation of another 800 stone columns.

This building, running parallel to the new gym, will be separated from it by an outdoor walkway. For another year or so, students in the new building will use the existing, smaller auditorium, until construction of the new facility is done. Then the old auditorium will be demolished. The final pieces of the project will be the creation of new multi-purpose turf and ball fields on the far end of the campus, plus landscaping.

Fields and facilities

All of the athletic facilities will be expanded and improved through this project, in keeping with the school’s expansion to a 2,300-student capacity building, said Superintendent Joel Aune.

“We were increasing the capacity of the building by 50 percent (from 1,275 students to 2,300 students and 290,000 square feet including the freshman campus, to 360,000 square feet) but we weren’t increasing the fields,” he said. Since the bond for the high school project did not include field improvements, the district had already been looking at creative ways to expand the number of available fields.

After NAC Architecture, which designed the high school, came up with a proposal to dramatically shorten the project, staff had the idea that led to today’s planned complex. NAC proposed acquiring and demolishing several homes on the far side of the campus, to be used initially as temporary construction parking and later as the site of the new baseball and soccer field complex.

The addition of this land enabled the district to build the main school building on the former baseball and softball diamonds, in a single phase rather than the original three-phase, five-year plan.

The plan does affect Mount Si’s baseball and softball teams which, for the next few years will be traveling to every game they play (softball home games are at Centennial field; baseball home games are at Bannerwood Park in Bellevue).

The new fields, because of their more durable surfaces and lighting, will be usable year-round and for more sports and activities, Stokes said.

“It’s an important asset to have and it will enable us to serve 2,300 students better than we expected when we ran the bond,” he added.

Likewise, the gym and performing arts center will be expanded and upgraded. The new gym will have five full basketball courts, three on the main floor and two on the second floor, plus a wrestling room and weight room. The new performing arts center will have capacity for 700, plus separate backstage rooms for choir, band and orchestra — a new offering for students at the high school this year.

One of the final improvements to be made to the building will be smaller ancillary parking lots, although most of the parking will be located under the school. The entire first floor of the project will be parking, allowing for 400 of the planned 700 new spaces on the site.

“The underground parking is unique,” Marsh said. “Other school districts are looking at it, because this school district is doing on 34 acres what it typically takes 60 acres to do and that is an extreme efficiency for land use.”

Another point of pride for school district staff is the way the project will affect students at the school now.

“The kids that are here now are not going to benefit from this,” Aune said, gesturing toward the high school building,” so that we were able to keep their experience intact, that’s a fantastic benefit for them.”

The high school project accounts for about $190 million of a $244 million bond that district voters approved in February, 2015. Other improvements to be funded by the bond included security updates to every school building a new Snoqualmie Elementary School gym, construction of the $35 million Timber Ridge Elementary School which opened last fall, and various other infrastructure projects.

By far, the most exciting of them all is the new high school. Aune said feedback on the project since it began has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Everyone’s connected to the high school,” Aune said.

“This is kind of fun for the Valley,” added Stokes. “When’s the last time we built a new high school?”

An aerial view of the future Mount Si High School indicates when various elements of the project will be complete and ready for use. The main school building is projected to open by the fall of 2019; work on the performing arts center and new ball fields will be completed the following year. (Courtesy Image)

An aerial view of the future Mount Si High School indicates when various elements of the project will be complete and ready for use. The main school building is projected to open by the fall of 2019; work on the performing arts center and new ball fields will be completed the following year. (Courtesy Image)

An aerial view of the future Mount Si High School indicates when various elements of the project will be complete and ready for use. The main school building is projected to open by the fall of 2019; work on the performing arts center and new ball fields will be completed the following year. (Courtesy Image)

An aerial view of the future Mount Si High School indicates when various elements of the project will be complete and ready for use. The main school building is projected to open by the fall of 2019; work on the performing arts center and new ball fields will be completed the following year. (Courtesy Image)

A school camera recording the progress of the construction project also captured a view of Mount Si on a sunny day in February. (Courtesy image)

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