After years of renovation work, Meany Middle School is again ready to take in a new chapter of Seattle students.

Meany closed in 2009, which allowed Nova Alternative High School and the Seattle World School to take over the space at 301 21st Ave. E. Nova moved back to the Horace Mann building, and SWS took over the renovated and expanded T.T. Minor School in September 2016.

Modernizing Meany Middle School to meet the educational demands facing today’s students and teachers was accomplished with $19.3 million in funds from the $694.9 million Building Excellence IV (BEX IV) capital levy approved in 2013.

Meany students will begin their first day of school on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Their new principal, Chanda E. Oatis, welcomed the students during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 31, that was followed by tours of the upgraded facility.

Oatis spent six years as assistant principal at Denny International Middle School, and in 2011 received Washington’s Middle School Assistant Principal of the Year award. She had been principal of Alki Elementary School for the past five years.

 

Oatis told students, teachers and parents in attendance during Thursday’s ceremony that her time spent in an elementary school taught her a lot about what students need when they move up to middle school.

“Our staff has worked so hard to get us ready for the next week,” she said.

The modernization project officially started in May 2016, however, re-roofing of Meany was conducted back in 2014.

Washington 43rd District Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who has two children from Stevens Elementary that will be attending Meany this year, reflected on the school’s image when he first toured the facility in 2007.

“It was a cave,” he said. “It was dark and dreary. It was underpopulated, and there really weren’t many who wanted and came to Meany at that time.”

As the fastest growing district in the state, Seattle Public Schools will continue to struggle with capacity issues, but Meany Middle School’s reopening offers a place for students to come from Stevens, Montlake, Lowell and McGilvra elementaries.

“I am just delighted to see such a beautiful facility ready to welcome students from this neighborhood — my neighborhood,” Pedersen said.

The 119,000-square-foot school was reconfigured to maximize space, which included adding a café area and central gathering space, which is taking in natural light through clerestory windows that were reopened after 50 years. A performance stage has been equipped with new equipment, and a new school entrance now has a light-colored steel canopy over it.

“You are standing and sitting with your feet on a floor from 1902,” said Tom Redman, SPS facilities and capital communications specialist, to attendees inside the school’s cafeteria.

Meany has also been seismically retrofitted, its light fixtures replaced with LEDs, and new mechanical systems will provide better energy efficiency.

Oatis told the Capitol Hill Times she was hired at the beginning of 2016, and the Meany School Design Advisory Team had already made a lot of headway with the design, so she had to hurry to provide her input.

“I think my favorite element of the building were the doors,” she said, which she requested have windows and let in more natural light. “I really wanted a lot of visibility.”

Oatis’ most costly request was to have bleachers for the gym.

“That’s a holdup though,” she said. “Unfortunately, the gym isn’t where it needs to be.”

Oatis said the school will need to request a departure from the city and make the case that the 300 seats they want to add will be for students, so there shouldn’t be a requirement to add parking.

With the exception of January and February, Oatis said she spent every second Tuesday of the month in 2016 holding meetings at the Miller Community Center that she’d hoped would draw in more students to provide their design input. Then she contacted her fellow principals at the elementary schools students would be leaving for Meany and spoke to them there.

“My principal colleagues really supported me in that,” Oatis said.

The expectation is for the bleachers to come in next year, along with the placement of the school’s logo on the gym floor.

“We did a student-community-family design contest for the logo,” Oatis said. “We did choose a logo; it wasn’t a student, but we do love our logos.”

All of the student logo designs will be used to create an art feature for the school in the future, she added.

Choosing a new mascot took some doing, Oatis said, and at one point it looked like Meany would go with the Seahawks. Visitors to the middle school might notice the math and literacy area is blue while the science space is green, she said.

There was also an early pitch to be the Jaguars, but Jane Addams Middle School took that mascot while Meany was closed, Oatis said, and it ultimately was decided not to try having two middle schools with the same mascot.

A number of parents and Meany alumni had also put their vote in to go back to being the Shamrocks, which started in the 1960s, with the school colors being green and white.

The school is now home to the Meany Mountain Lions, and the colors are blue, silver and white.

Bruno Cross, who had been at Madrona K-8 School, is now assistant principal at Highline Elementary School. He came to see the facility and wish Oatis and Meany assistant principal Patricia Rangel — all having worked together at Denny — good luck in their new positions.

“This is phenomenal, the change,” Cross said. “The color, the feel — it’s a beautiful school. The way they’ve made this school come to life is just incredible.”

Madrona is changing this year to a K-5 school, and Cross said about two-thirds of middle school students there will transfer to Meany.

SPS District 5 School Board director Dr. Stephan Blanford said he deals with millions of dollars in projects and school expenses all of the time, but it always feels theoretical until he comes into a building like Meany Middle School.

Blanford talked about the history of Edmond S. Meany Middle School, which opened as the 20th Avenue School 115 years ago, and then as the Longfellow School later that year.

During renovations, a time capsule from the 1960s was found in a masonry wall cavity near the front entry. Blanford said a letter from the principal at that time referred to “slow-learning students,” and a hope that racial, social and economic factors would be resolved by the time the capsule was uncovered.

“Maybe we opened that time capsule a little too early,” Blanford said.

Oatis said the design team really focused on making Meany a STEAM school(science, technology, engineering, art and math, but she’s not ready to declare the middle school as such just yet.

The middle school doesn’t currently have the funding to hire a technology instructor, she said, and a librarian will provide one class this year.

“It is to come, it is on our minds,” Oatis said of being a STEAM school, “but we don’t want to rush it. We want to be patient.”