Magnolia School, the former elementary school given historic landmark status located on 28th Avenue West, opened in 1927. At that time, Magnolia School was a nine-room, brick building with marbles steps in the front leading up to a grand entrance. The school was designed by Floyd A. Naramore, a Seattle schools architect who designed more than thirty schools in the Seattle area in the 1920s and 30s, in his signature Georgian Colonial Revival style.
Magnolia School was built for teaching grades 1-6, but was later expanded to include grades 7 and 8. By 1929, 235 students were enrolled, and it was determined that additional space was needed. The school underwent a series of buildouts by the Seattle School District to accommodate a growing population in 1931, 1939, 1941, and again in 1969. By 1947, the school became overcrowded, prompting construction of Catherine Blaine Junior High School in 1952. Catherine Blaine is now one of two elementary schools in Magnolia.
Dale Forbus Hogle, a lifelong resident of Magnolia and former attendee of Magnolia School, remembers the school fondly.
“When school opened in September after the long summer vacation, your room assignment and your teacher were yours for the entire year,” he said. “That classroom became as familiar as your home. In each classroom were very tall windows with yellow shades which could be raised by some means of cords and pulleys for afternoons when the sun streamed in the west windows. Rows of individual wooden desks with seats that folded up were bolted to the floor. Each desk had an ink well on the right rear corner. The wells were filled each morning from a large bottle of liquid blue permanent ink. Ball points hadn’t been invented yet! It was a bad day when ink spilled on your clothes. The top of the desk lifted to reveal a compartment for your books, papers, pencils, and pens with replaceable metal points. The desk you were assigned was your own for the whole year. Wood shavings from the pencil sharpener on the wall gave off a strong smell. Students’ coats and jackets produced a musty smell in the cloakroom at the back of every room. There was a kind of comfortable feeling of belonging every day in that classroom.”
Magnolia School closed its doors in 1984 due to the development of other programs and schools opening in the region. After Magnolia School closed, the building was used as an interim site for several schools as their buildings were being renovated. Adams Elementary moved in from 1987 to 1989, and John Muir Elementary from 1989 to 1990. The African American Academy occupied the building from 1993 until their new school was completed in 2000. Franz H. Coe Elementary used the building between 2000 and 2002 during a renovation of their facility. Since 2002, Magnolia School has been vacant, although residents, community advocates, and the school board have now come up with funding to rehabilitate and reopen a new elementary school. That’s about to change.
Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has long acknowledged the overcrowding and underfunding of some schools. On February 5, 2015, members of the Washington Legislature’s Seattle delegation sent a letter requesting that the State Senate Capital Budget Committee set aside $33 million in the SPS capital budget to address safety upgrade needs and severe overcrowding. Noting projected enrollment forecasts averaging a growth of 1,000 students per annum, they pointed out that the Seattle School District could have an enrollment of "approximately 60,000 students by the year 2020.” The request identified three projects for funding, including the Magnolia School. On March 27, 2015, the state announced that part of the capital budget would include plans to repair and reopen the Magnolia School.
In 2015, SPS received a Distressed Schools Grant to assist in funding the reopening of Magnolia School, but additional funding was required. In February 2016, Seattle voters approved to renew the $758.3 million Operations Levy and the six-year $475.3 million Buildings, Technology and Academics (BTA) IV Capital Levy, replacing the expiring BTA III Capital Levy, approved in 2009. The passage of the BTA IV capital levy will allow SPS to implement building-system improvements that meet the City of Seattle Substantial Alterations code designation (i.e., seismic and energy conservation improvements) and will fund upgrades and renovations of aging schools. The capital levy allocates $87.8 million to renovate and open three vacant elementary schools, EC. Hughes, Webster, and Magnolia, and to build an addition increasing capacity by 500 seats at Ingraham High School. Magnolia School will receive approximately $20 million in supplemental funding.
According to Seattle Public Schools, approximately 40,000 square feet of the existing school will be renovated and an additional 30,800 square feet added. Magnolia Elementary School is currently being designed by Mahlum Architects to accommodate 500 students serving kindergarten to fifth grade. In addition to renovating the historic landmarked building, a new gym, library, kindergarten classrooms and support spaces will be constructed. Other improvements will include a new playground on school property and site landscaping. Ella Bailey will remain separate, and in use as a city park.
“Over the past several months, the design team, led by Mahlum Architects, has been working diligently to finalize design of the renovation and expansion of Magnolia Elementary School,” said Jeanette Imanishi, Seattle Public Schools Project Manager. “Their activities included engaging with a school design advisory team made up of representatives from the Magnolia community and school district staff to understand priorities for the design. Together, they wrote the guiding vision statement: ‘At Magnolia School, we build a joyful, caring community, fostering balance, creativity and curiosity surrounded by nature and framed by a historic modernized building.’”
Imanishi said the project will be advertised for bids beginning in March, with bid opening planned for April 20, and construction scheduled to begin on or around June 1. The newly renovated and expanded Magnolia Elementary School is slated to open Fall 2018. More information about the Magnolia School Masterplan can be located at bta.seattleschools.org
For more Magnolia history, check out our books and society events at magnoliahistoricalsociety.org, and like us on our Facebook page. If you are interested in serving on our Board, please call 206.261.0255.
Lisa Meoli is a Magnolia Historical Society Board member and environmental historian at Floyd|Snider.