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Marysville Getchell High School

Supporting Growth as Global Citizens


Marysville School District No. 25

Project Location

Marysville, WA




196,000 SF

Set among second-growth trees, forest wetlands, and sweeping territorial views, the Marysville Getchell Campus comprises four schools that excite student senses with an innovative learning environment. Our design of the new high school campus enables great flexibility in the administration of student-focused learning.

Responding to the district’s adoption of a new, small learning community model, the design arranges four independent SLC buildings and the Campus Commons, which houses shared activities such as dining and physical education, around a second growth forest. Within each SLC building, a series of interconnected learning spaces support the educational approach described by the district’s five guiding principles: relationships at the center; focused learning; identity and purpose; community; and accountability. The architecture organizes these functions into a three-story, shell and core building for each of the four SLCs. The shell and core solution draws most load bearing structure and plumbing out to the exterior walls, with electrical and HVAC routed through floor and ceiling. This concept maximizes interior connectivity and allows interior walls to be easily reconfigured as necessary over time to adapt to changes in educational program.

The architectural expression further responds to the site with perceptual lightness. An earthy masonry base rises from the ground, transitioning through steel beams and extensive glazing within which the containers of core educational spaces float. Roofs appear to hover over the buildings. Structural engineering is visibly expressed as part of a program to allow the buildings to serve as educational tools.

Finally, building arrangement creates outdoor in-between spaces where the school offers opportunities for outdoor learning and community connection. Raised boardwalks connect each building while respecting the site’s natural contours and gently intervening with the landscape. Students, staff, and visitors engage in a procession of social, physical, and educational interrelationships.


The new Marysville Getchell High School Campus embodies the district’s reinvigorated focus on student learning in small learning communities. Typically, specific curriculum needs drive educational specifications, but when design of this school began the district was only just beginning to develop its new SLC educational program – a program that would evolve from a visionary set of five guiding principles. The project team took this opportunity to critically reexamine the fundamental principles of educational environments.


Phoenix Rising

Marysville School District achieved one of the most incredible turnarounds in educational history. After a state-record 49-day teacher strike in 2004, tensions between the community and school board around school overcrowding aggregated over 15 years of bond failures. The district and community rallied under the leadership of a new superintendent to heal old fractures and redirect attention toward improving student learning. The district’s new educational approach saw a dramatic increase in extended graduation rates within the program’s first three years.

Benches in white hallway between classrooms with wood sliding double doors opened. Blue panel drop ceiling details and lights

The learning environment is capable of adapting to changing specifics in educational program and curriculum needs.


Regional / Community Design

Community is one of five guiding principles of Marysville School District and, accordingly, Marysville Getchell High School is designed to function as a community building in the midst of a residential neighborhood. The building arrangement creates in-between spaces outdoors where the school functions with the community at large. The athletic fields and gymnasium are shared with the community. The property is unrestricted to neighbors and visitors who wish to visit the wetlands and forest. School buildings are available for community gatherings after hours and on weekends. Living room spaces inside the school buildings encourage student and community interaction. Included in the design are parent-volunteer areas, and presentation spaces intended for user by community leadership and local businesses invited to give student presentations.

Grey carpeted step seating with stairs to left in front of green accent wall and chairs. Yellow reception desk back left

The Community Commons shares functions such as a fitness center, campus dining, administration, and events spaces.


The Spaces In-Between

The team’s primary focus on the Guiding Principles instead of traditional programmatic assumptions led to design solutions incredible flexibility. The learning environment adapts to changing specifics in educational program and curriculum needs, based on a distillation of educational functions down to eight universal learning spaces to support the SLCs.

2nd floor walkway in double height atrium with windows looking out to trees. Yellow accent wall to right over seating area

Shell and core architecture maximizes interior connectivity that can be reconfigured as necessary over time.


  • Site
    The school site is characterized by second-growth forest, steep grade changes from east to west, extraordinary views of Elliot Bay, and neighboring wetlands. With surrounding old growth stands giving way to rapid residential development, the client and project team focused on preserving the site’s natural integrity by creating a school that promotes stewardship of its surroundings. Preserving wetlands, old growth trees and forest understory was paramount to the siting of the school. Befitting its SLC educational model, composing the school as a campus of distinct multi-story structures reduced the total building footprint for minimal site impact. Connected by boardwalks, the buildings nestle into the preserved landscape and sloping topography, while their orientation maximizes daylighting. Outdoor spaces, including outdoor an amphitheater, decks, and viewing platforms provide endless learning opportunities where students, staff, and visitors engage in social, professional, and educational interactions.
  • Energy
    In addition to embracing the preservation of the natural site and maximizing natural daylighting with careful building orientation and high efficiency glass, this project integrates other significant energy reduction and efficiencies systems. Rather than using a mechanical cooling system, a sustainable approach of operable widows and shading by the forest canopy is used to cool buildings. Occupancy sensors and dimmable lights are installed in classrooms and offices. All air handling units are set to economizer cycles and hot water tanks are minimized.  A high-efficiency HVAC system was selected to exceed local energy code requirements by more than 20%.
  • Materials
    As with every school project, the design team focused intently on durability and ease of maintenance, choosing roofing and carpeting products with significant 20-to-30 year warranties. Polished concrete flooring was employed in high traffic areas and ceiling materials were minimized through design choices to expose ducts and ceiling structure. The insulated window units are regionally fabricated and local materials and manufacturers sourced. Careful to preserve as many trees and forest understory as possible, the root-balls of the few trees logged were given to a county program and used to build up fish habitats in local rivers.  The use of native, drought tolerant species in the landscape eliminated the need for irrigation. Much of the wood and brush was chipped on-site for mulch.
  • Water
    Storm water runoff is significantly reduced by thoughtful design elements and the use of pervious materials. Wood mulch and crushed stone paths wind through campus and follow the natural contours of the landscape. Wooden ramps span steep grade changes and boggy areas, with pin foundations mitigating site disturbance. Water permeable grid paving products are used in other hardscape elements, while parking lot sizes are reduced to minimize paving and encourage the use of public transportation and ride sharing. In addition to the inclusion of rain gardens in the parking lots, two school campus buildings return roof water run-off to the surrounding wetlands rather than the storm water systems. Buildings feature dual-flush toilets in staff restrooms.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
    The design creates an interior experience that connects students, staff, and visitors to each other, and also to the verdant, natural surroundings. Each school building is designed without a corridor; learning areas are planned instead around commons and living room spaces. Unimpeded by walls, light penetrates the interior through many large windows, while views of the outside from within are equally uninterrupted. Sunshades minimize glare through operable windows. In classrooms, offices, and labs, dimmable lights and task lighting allow users to adjust light intensity. The use of low-emitting materials maintains healthy air quality, while carbon dioxide sensors in classrooms provide staff a reliable means of gauging room stuffiness. The buildings each satisfy Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol acoustical requirements, using acoustic gypsum board ceilings and walls to deftly muffle the ever- present ambient sound within an inspired, vibrant high school.


2012 Grand Award, Spring Edition

Learning by Design Magazine

2012 Award of Distinction

Washington Association of Landscape Professionals

2011 Grand Prize, Education Design Showcase

School Planning and Management Magazine

2011 Judges’ Choice Award, Education Design Showcase Sustainability and Innovation

School Planning and Management Magazine

2011 Award of Merit, Educational Facility Design

AIA Committee for Architectural Excellence

2011 Grand Prize, Exhibition of Schools


2011 High School Citation

American School & University Magazine

2011 Merit Award, Civic Design Award

AIA Washington

2008 Educational Interiors Showcase Outstanding Design, Commons Area

American School & University Magazine

2008 Project of Distinction

American School & University magazine

2008 Award of Merit, Unbuilt

A4LE Washington Chapter

2008 Design Concept Award


2012 Illumination Award of Merit


2007 Design in Concept, Best in Competition


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