When the school board in Spokane, Wash., entered the early planning stages to replace three aging urban buildings after the passage of a $165.3 million facility improvement bond, its primary design goals included durability and sustainability. Greg Brown, AIA, Director of Capitol Projects for Spokane Public Schools, said that keeping these goals in mind, concrete masonry was the “obvious choice” for the primary material at Lidgerwood, Ridgeview, and Lincoln Heights Elementary Schools.

“To maintain a building over its lifespan costs 3–10 times more in upkeep and utilities than the original expense of the facility,” said Brown. “Adding a sealer makes masonry easy to maintain and creates great aesthetic appeal.”

Madsen Mitchell Evenson & Conrad, PLLC (MMEC) was selected to develop the education specifications that would provide continuity for all three schools. According to MMEC Principal Craig Conrad, AIA, Spokane Public Schools wanted these new facilities to achieve the environmental and green building goals for design and construction set by the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP) for High Performance Schools. Like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), WSSP qualification is earned through a system of points.

One way to earn compliance points is to purchase locally produced construction materials. Mutual Materials and Central Pre-Mix/Oldcastle supplied CMU and brick manufactured in Spokane or the immediate region, for all three new buildings. “We were successful in making sure that project dollars were invested in Spokane, and used local architects to ensure materials were available nearby,” reported Brown. All three buildings meet WSSP qualifications, with Lincoln Heights Elementary also achieving Silver LEED Certification.

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Another goal set by Spokane Public Schools was for each new facility to have a unique identity to its neighborhood and be tailored to the needs of students, staff, and parents. Each building involved community members and teachers in the design process, allowing opportunities for meetings with architects where their needs and desires would be addressed.


Principal Kathy Williams, along with her staff and community members, helped create plans for the new building to replace a cramped, aging school and its portable additions. She is thrilled with the end product that was designed to serve the neighborhood for the next 50 years.

“ALSC Architects did a great job of making our vision a reality,” said Williams. “We wanted a traditional, timeless design in brick with lots of fun, geometric shapes –replicate with their blocks or Legos.”

Designers chose the next best thing to building with Legos for creativity and flexibility – concrete masonry. By using several varieties of block in many different natural colors, the team of six ALSC architects came up with a fanciful design that replicates brick. Smooth-face, ground-face, and split-face block were utilized in shades of burgundy, charcoal, khaki, and gray to create playful and multi-textured walls.

“The community really liked the look of brick,” said Dave Huotari, principal-in-charge of the project at ALSC. “The school has the feel of permanence and is very durable. It had been a long time since the district built schools in classic burgundy brick. CMU was an economical choice for this project, from both a labor and material standpoint.”

The CMU is reinforced in the gym and a multi-purpose room. “Load-bearing masonry was used in these spaces because the more people you have in a room together at one time, the more concerned you are with stability and life safety,” stated Huotari.

The $6 million, 48,500-sq-ft school used 42,000 CMU block in various colors, according to Mike Spilker, Spilker Masonry, mason contractor for Ridgeview. “It was a unique challenge working through the winter, but the design worked out very well,” he said.

The school meets the goals of the WSSP by using natural light, water-reducing features, local materials, and low VOC products. Materials from the existing building were reused, when possible, and high-efficiency lighting, heating, plumbing, and cooling systems were installed throughout the new building to reduce annual utility and maintenance costs.

The most unique feature of the new school is the custom-cast bell from the Netherlands that graces a tower at the main entrance. The working bell is embossed with a new school crest that includes the image of an old stone castle, representing a sense of stability in home and school.