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Rainier Beach High School Called “Breakthrough” Project

July 07, 2020
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Moody Nolan has led major projects over much of the U.S., usually building relationships face-to-face with stakeholders and partners as they collaborate on design, strategies and goals.

But, when the firm landed its first West Coast contract in the midst of a pandemic, the ground rules had to change.

As it turns out, the firm’s 50-50 partnership with Bassetti Architects of Seattle on the new Rainier Beach High School may be going even more seamlessly through remote engagement than it would have otherwise.

Much of the logistics of the partnership have fallen to Christian Joosse, a project assistant in Moody Nolan’s Columbus office. Christian tapped the power of technology to bring three school design advisory teams and other community stakeholders together for essential meetings and conversations.

The keys were a software solution used by architects, engineers and contractors to iterate building projects real time in virtual settings, along with Zoom meetings to accommodate as many people as necessary.

Moody Nolan CEO Jonathan Moody noted that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was unclear whether projects such as this would slow down or stop altogether. But, according to Christian, “We’ve been able to manage the project very successfully.”

She explains that the teams, which include neighborhood and school officials, have been able to participate in everything from “take-home” assignments to break-out sessions without the need for physical spaces that can sometimes limit scheduling and group size. Sketching tools allow participants to add their ideas real time virtually rather than on a physical white board.

Associate and Project Architect Jakiel Sanders, located in the firm’s Atlanta office, says the technology also allows for virtual tours of existing buildings and polling tools. Additionally, the software holds chat functions that allow for quick feedback to ideas and concepts.

“This has resulted in rich conversations during our meetings,” he says. “All chat comments are automatically saved, and we record our sessions and post video so that people who were not able to participate can access it later.”

All of this is vital to the success of what Jakiel describes as a “breakthrough” project for Moody Nolan. The firm was founded in Columbus in 1982 and has expanded to 11 cities from Dallas to New York. And yet, this project – as Moody Nolan’s first on the West Coast – is special.

Rainier Beach, built in a highly diverse neighborhood in 1960, has been in need of attention for many years. According to press accounts, it’s the only Seattle high school that has never been renovated. Now, it will be completely replaced.

While Bassetti is a highly respected architectural firm with an impressive body of work, its team makeup didn’t match the demographics of the neighborhood, Jakiel says. The firm approached Moody Nolan, the nation’s largest African American-owned architectural firm, and the two interviewed for the project together; then, they won together.

Jakiel says the project is now in the schematic design phase with construction slated to begin in 2022 and end in 2025. When complete, the new campus will total 258,824 square feet of building space and accommodate 1,600 students – more than twice the current student enrollment.

Meanwhile, both Jakiel and Christian say projects such as this not only are challenging, but that the collaborations, creative problem solving and – most of all, the ability to deliver for clients – are why they got into the industry in the first place.

“We make dreams come true,” Jakiel explains.