Highline Public Schools
15675 Ambaum Blvd. SW Burien,WA 98166

Office Hours:

Monday-Friday: 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.


If you have a question about the 2016 Highline Public Schools bond projects and progress, please ask. We will respond to you personally and post answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Please email your questions to:

Highline High School

When will the new Highline High School open for occupancy?

The timeline for major projects shows that during construction, Highline High School students will attend school for two years at the Olympic Interim site (from fall 2019 through spring 2021). The rebuilt Highline High School will open for students in August 2021.

Would it be feasible to preserve just the center portion of the original facade?

We recognize the value of historic preservation, and ideally, we could preserve at least a portion of the HHS façade. Our contractor, Skanska believes that the risk of failure actually increases for a shorter section. Skanska Vice President Rob Robinson explains that the length of the brick wall would have a stabilizing effect. Removing portions of the wall on either side of the entry panel leaves it with less support.

The expense and the risk are due to the type of construction as well as the soil conditions on the site. The facade is one-brick-thick veneer on a wood frame. Brick buildings that lend themselves to preservation are multiple layers of masonry attached to concrete. With solid masonry, the brick is holding up the building; with brick veneer, the wood building is holding up the brick. When the wood frame is removed, the brick wall becomes extremely fragile and prone to collapse.

It is possible to stabilize the brick wall with steel beams, pour a new foundation below it, and build a wall to support the bricks. However, this would be expensive, putting the project several million dollars over budget. Skanska has advised that even with these measures there is a significant risk that the brick wall could collapse during construction, wasting taxpayer dollars. This would increase the project cost even more, as we would then need to build a new wall at an additional cost.

Skanska and the architectural firm on the project, Bassetti Architects, both have extensive experience preserving historic buildings. Based on soil testing, existing facade construction, masonry testing, cost analysis and a taxpayer-funded budget, both recommend rebuilding with a design that honors the original. We are confident this is the right decision based on the determination of experts and stewardship of limited taxpayer dollars.

HHS Facade Key Facts

  • We value the historic significance of Highline High School to our community and remain committed to retaining the look of the original building as we rebuild the school.
  • After contractors evaluated the construction of the wall and the soil conditions, they concluded that it is not financially feasible to attempt to shore up the wall and keep it intact.
    • Unlike other buildings of the same era or earlier constructed of solid masonry, the north wall of HHS is brick veneer (one brick thick) on a wood frame structure.
    • It would cost up to $15 million to reinforce the wall with pilings and install a new foundation. There is a significant risk the wall would collapse in the process, and the $15 million investment would be wasted.
  • The project team has recommended that, instead of attempting to keep the wall intact, we honor the look of the original building by recreating key portions of the facade, using salvaged materials as much as possible.
    • While this would not be a technical replication, it would retain key parts of the façade and reflect the historical look of the original building.
    • We are working with Bassetti Architects on design options. Options will be presented to the design review committee (students, staff, families and community members) for feedback, and then to the public at the October 19, 2017 Ask the Architect meeting.

Why can’t we save the facade of Highline High School?

Our technical team (architects, structural engineer, and other contractors) determined that, based on the conditions of the soil and the masonry, there is a significant risk the north wall would collapse during the structural reinforcement process.  The masonry is veneer (one brick thick) installed on a wood structure, which would be extremely fragile during construction. Attempting to preserve the wall is estimated to cost up to $15 million because it would need to be encapsulated and then supported on deep shoring piers. If the wall did not survive the construction process, that money would be wasted. Our architects, general contractor and project staff have agreed that this option is not financially feasible even if there was no risk of failure.

Did the district already know that retaining the facade was not possible?

No, the technical evaluation was completed using bonds funds for this purpose. The district did not have the capital funds to do the evaluation before the election.  The bond recommended by the citizen-led Capital Facilities Advisory Committee included very specific language to account for this unknown factor.  Voters approved the measure which stated we would “preserve as much of the facade as structurally and financially feasible.”  

If we can’t save it, why can’t we replicate the facade exactly?

It is very difficult or impossible to locate and replicate the materials faithfully. Bassetti Architects advises that it is not best practice to attempt to exactly replicate historic buildings with new products. For example, new brick will not have the same color as the old brick.  We sought out Bassetti Architects for this project because of their track record in preserving historic buildings and designing respectful interpretations of portions that cannot be preserved. The project team will work to salvage materials and repurpose them in the new structure.

If other historic buildings can be preserved, why not Highline HIgh School?

In other Bassetti projects, exterior walls had thicker facades attached to a stable concrete backing. The HHS facade is a single layer of brick attached to a wood-framed structure. The HHS project budget does not include the $15 million cost for preservation; but even if it did, the project team says they cannot in good faith recommend it due to the significant risk of failure during the process. This would waste tax dollars that are planned for other capital needs.

Why can’t we rebuild it with the same bricks?

Some of the bricks are up to 90 years old, so a significant percentage will crumble in the deconstruction process and not be reusable. We are considering ways we can incorporate salvaged brick in creative ways in the new design.

Wasn’t there a contingency fund in the bond to pay for preserving the façade?

There is a $24 million contingency fund to cover cost escalation, inflation, and unanticipated issues in all projects in the bond. The purpose of this fund is to ensure that all the promised bond projects can be completed. Approximately $5 million of that fund will be used to address the soil stability issue at Highline High School. Additionally devoting up to $15 million to preserving the facade could leave just $4 million for contigencies in other projects.

There is also a critical needs fund in the bond, which is intended to pay for ongoing critical needs like replacing roofs and furnaces that stop working. Because our district did not pass a bond for 10 years, we have nearly $100 million in capital needs that need to be addressed. It is important to have a critical needs fund to maintain our existing structures and extend the life of our aging schools until we can replace them.

Will there be auto shop and wood shop at the rebuilt Highline High School?

The existing Highline High School includes a wood shop; there is not an auto shop. Planning for the new school includes a new wood shop; it does not include an auto shop. Juniors and seniors with an interest in auto body or automotive technology are encouraged to find out more about programs hosted at the Puget Sound Skills Center in Burien.

Other Bond Project Questions

When will sixth grade students begin attending middle school?

Students in Highline Public Schools entering sixth grade in fall 2019 will start attending middle school. These students are now attending fourth grade in 2017-18. The new middle school at the Glacier site opens in fall 2019, providing the capacity to make this transition.

Diana Garcia (Director of Education Specification and Transition Planning) and former middle school and elementary principal, has resumed planning and coordination of the sixth-grade transition. She will be meeting with students, staff and families to prepare for this change. She will be scheduling meetings across the district this year for fourth-grade and fifth-grade families to provide information, answer questions and receive input. 

Her work includes collaborating with district Human Resources and Highline Education Association (HEA) staff to determine who will teach at the new middle school, how sixth grade positions will be addressed districtwide and how the selection process will work. Starting in January, committees will be formed to address various aspects of the middle school program, from music to athletics to health curriculum and more. 

Voters overwhelmingly approved the November 2016 school bond, based on these recommendations by the citizen-led Capital Facilities Advisory Committee, which included the addition of sixth grade to middle school. Middle school, by definition and in most local districts, is a 6-7-8 configuration.

If you have questions about the transition of sixth grade to middle school, you are welcome to contact Diana Garcia.

Why are we building a new school at the Zenith site so close to Parkside Elementary?

The Zenith site was recommended by the community-led Capital Facilities Advisory Committee. The Des Moines Elementary site is small for the size school we need, with growing enrollment in the area. The district already owns the Zenith property, which has ample space for a 750-student school. This site is within the Des Moines Elementary service area, though it is close to the Parkside boundary. Boundaries will likely be adjusted to relieve overcrowding at Parkside.

Are there plans to renovate Sylvester Middle School? What about other schools?

Voters approved Phase 1 of the long range facilities plan recommended by the community-led Capital Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC). Phase 2 and Phase 3 will be funded by future bonds. A new Sylvester Middle School is listed in Phase 3.

One of the reasons replacement/renovation of Sylvester and other schools is so far out on the timeline is that Highline voters did not pass a bond for 10 years before the successful 2016 bond. Prior to 2002, there was a 16-year gap between bonds. Because of these two periods with no new capital funding, Highline has a long list of backlogged capital needs.

The Glacier and Zenith sites are close to the airport flight path. Why?

The Glacier and Zenith sites are close to the SeaTac Airport flight path. Why not build at sites less impacted by noise and air quality concerns?

After a year of study and deliberation, the community-led Capital Facilities Advisory Committee determined these were the best available properties to site schools, and 67 percent of voters approved the school bond in November 2016. The land is owned by the school district, which keeps taxpayer costs down.

All homes, businesses and schools in our community are impacted by noise and environmental effects from the airport. Our new schools will be among the facilities in our district with the highest standards for air quality and noise reduction.

Air quality: The district’s standard for indoor air quality for our new schools is higher than in homes in the area.  The HVAC systems for the new schools will be designed to filter air to local, state, and federal air quality standards, equal to or greater than the new FAA facility under construction in Des Moines. Installing more sensitive air filtration systems, such as those required for hospitals or electronics manufacturing, is cost prohibitive.

According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, the region around South King County and Sea-Tac Airport meets all of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. 

Airport noise:  Our new schools meet all local, state and national regulations for noise reduction in a commercial building near an airport. This makes our schools quieter than homes in the area.

Soil quality and construction dust: Our geotechnical and environmental consultants sample the soils at every school construction site to check soil suitability and environmental quality. Environmental consultants plan and monitor remediation if they identify contaminated soils. These procedures follow local and state requirements.

Our contractors are required to follow best practices for controlling dust during construction.  The application of water to minimize dust when disturbing soil is one of those best practices.

Water quality:  If there is a creek or pond on the property, water quality is tested before construction as a baseline. Our contractors are required to use mitigating construction practices, as well as monitor water quality during construction, to prevent any contamination or degradation, and the creek or pond is tested again after construction.

I have heard that ultrafine particle pollution from airplanes could be a health concern. Is the school district doing anything to address this at the new school sites?

New schools will be designed to filter air to local, state, and federal air quality standards. The U.S. does not regulate ultra-fine particles.

The EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool ( uses computer modelling to estimate risks related to air quality. While this tool is not designed to predict actual risks at specific locations, the estimated risk for respiratory issues and cancer are elevated throughout the entire Seattle metropolitan area, including all Highline Public Schools and homes.  It is not possible to substantially lower the estimated risks by moving school sites to any other location within Highline boundaries.

Will the district sell the old Des Moines Elementary site for new view construction?

The citizen-led Capital Facilities Advisory Committee suggested in 2016 that we repurpose the old Des Moines Elementary school for community use. We have no plans to sell it. For now, it will be used for district storage, including Highline High School items that will not fit while HHS students are attending the Olympic Interim site and the new Highline High School is under construction. 

When will the new Evergreen, Tyee, and Pacific schools be designed?

We expect the design work for the new Evergreen, Tyee, and Pacific schools to begin in early 2020. Construction of these schools will be funded by a future bond, which is an estimated six years out. Waiting three years to begin designing these schools makes good planning and business sense.
1. The funds raised from bond sales must be used within three years of the sale. Breaking the work into two 3-year stages saves on staffing costs, since we can complete the work with fewer people.

2. Designing the buildings too far in advance could lead to costly design alterations resulting from changing building codes.

3. Selling the bonds in two stages saves taxpayers on interest and keeps district debt lower.

4. This will not delay the opening of these schools. High schools typically take up to 18 months to design and permit, and two years to construct.