St. Monica begins preschool building design process

St. Monica School will be establishing a pre-K program, and with it comes a brand new building to be added to the campus.

“There has been a strong desire for a pre-K program from parents,” said Pam Dellino, the principal of St. Monica School. “The parents are very excited.”

The Mercer Island Design Commission met last Wednesday and approved the preliminary design report for the building with a few conditions.

“It generally fits in well with the residential feel of the neighborhood,” said city planner Travis Saunders about the project.

The building, designed by PTS, is 2,500 square feet and will sit on what is currently open space at the school, to the east of the existing school library. The pre-K program, a class for 4-year-olds, will have space for 10 children or more and will also be used as an after-school care area for 15 to 30 children. There are also plans for the building to be used as an additional meeting area for the Parish.

Aubrey Davidson, the lead designer for the project, said the building will be constructed from natural materials similar to the library and other buildings on the campus. Davidson said they are pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the project, meaning the project will conform with green building practices and environmentally sustainable uses. The LEED rating system for schools was created by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way for schools, parents and communities to monitor progress, as well as performance for green buildings. The system also provides for third-party reviews of all LEED-certified schools.

“I applaud you for pursuing LEED for schools. It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn about their environment,” said Commissioner Lucia Pirzio-Biroli.

Dellino said the school felt it was important to pursue the LEED certification as a way to continue to be careful with the environment and pass those feelings on to students.

“We’re concerned with the environment, and we want to be very conscientious about how we impact it,” said Dellino. She said the school has been extremely fortunate to have volunteer help from parent and architect Tom Holland throughout the process.

Access to the preschool building will be from the parking lot located off of 87th Avenue S.E., with pedestrian pathways from the library and the parking lot. The preschool drop-off point is to be on 87th Avenue, not within the parking lot, said Davidson.

The commissioners did, however, express concern over the exterior color palette, especially the apparent brightness of the yellow chosen, and the fact that the colors do not seem to reflect the context of the site. Davidson said that, in reality, the yellow is not as bright as it appeared to be in the presentation.

Commissioner Ann Nielsen said she felt that the rest of the campus has a more “old-school feel,” whereas the proposed building is much more new and modern.

The conditions approved by the Commission include: making sure that the fence along 88th Avenue S.E. matches the fence on the southeast corner of the property; the colors and material palette are more muted and better integrated with the existing structures; the landscaping is native and consistent with the code, and the columns are evaluated to better fit with the existing feel of the school. The Mercer Island planning staff also suggested that there be no disturbance of the Douglas fir trees to the north of the proposed building.

From here, the project will be reworked to include the comments and suggestions from the commissioners before being re-submitted to the city for a review hearing.

During the hearing, the Commissioners review the updated plans and can choose to accept them, deny them or accept them with further conditions. If approved, a project then moves into the building permit stage. After all permits are issued, construction can begin.

Saunders said it is possible a review hearing for the project could come in late March or early April. “It generally fits in well with the residential feel of the neighborhood,” the city planner said about the project.

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