Leading Kids to a Sustainable Future
Springwood Youth Center
Before the completion of the new Springwood Youth center, located at the site of the existing Springwood Apartments complex, a 321-unit public housing complex that is home to more than 700 children, recreational and educational activities took place in a cramped, dark building built during the early 1970s. And that facility was reaching its utter limits. Funded by Building Better Futures, a partnership of nonprofits and government organizations, the Springwood Youth Center is the second of two facilities developed at the site. The first, the Kent Family Center, houses a state-of-the-art Head Start program, a health care clinic for mothers and children, and a career development center. The Youth Center, which opened in October 2006, supports the growing needs of the community's refugees and immigrant populations in the fastest-growing center of poverty in the region.
"One of the most critical issues with children today—particularly when their parents are working all day, whether it's a single parent or not—is what happens in the after-school hours," said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority. "We have over 700 children living at Springwood, and many of the parents are working in the afternoons. We were concerned to make sure we had good, healthy alternatives to the street where kids could hang out and participate in recreational programs and also get help with schoolwork. We see the ability to help children succeed as the key to the future of these communities."
The youth center sits at the heart of the complex, enhancing its commitment to building a strong, healthy neighborhood. The building's materials and colors inside and out were selected to express the playfulness of the youth it serves. Exterior windows were added to bring in natural light, and bright wall colors enhance the open feel of the facility.
Visibility and natural lighting were key to the design. Central areas were planned so that most of the program spaces can be seen from a single position. Integrated art is evident throughout the building—in etched glazing, panels, windows, floor inlays and corner guards. Artist Stuart Nakamura was an integral contributor to the design process.
"I think the level of art and light that we've been able to bring into a facility in a public housing complex is especially unique," Norman said.
The 10,800-square-foot facility features a gym with a stage, computer lab, classrooms for study and tutoring, arts and crafts room, a rec room and a commercial kitchen. The stage gives teen and tween patrons a place to express themselves through public speaking and performance, while the arts and crafts area gives them a place to express themselves creatively.
The facility was designed especially for the area's middle school and high school youth. Recreational and educational programming is provided during afternoon, evening, weekend and school vacation times for more than 1,200 area kids.
The building recently gained LEED certification, and includes many sustainable design features. To prevent a negative impact on an adjacent salmon-bearing stream, the facility was built on the footprint of a pre-existing community center. This allowed for a large, open play space at the rear of the building, which will be maintained for the life of the facility.
"The fact that it's LEED-certified and adjacent to a salmon-bearing stream, which is very important to us here in the Northwest, means we're sending a message about environmental sustainability," Norman said.
Further contributing to the building's sustainability, more than 80 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills to local recycling facilities. Also, more than 80 percent of the space is lit by windows and skylights, reducing the building's energy load. Water reduction also played a key role in the design, with native and drought-tolerant plants featured in the landscaping, and low-flow toilets and showerheads and waterless urinals reducing potable water use by 50 percent.
Education components help to support the building's "green" mission. A scavenger hunt introduces children to the building's sustainable features and teaches them the importance of environmental responsibility, a lesson that often does not get conveyed in low-income areas.
All in all, the facility fosters a sense of community—and respect for community members—at Springwood.
"The level of excitement when we opened the facility was incredible—the look on their faces," mused Norman. "Poor children frequently wind up in facilities that don't necessarily say that they're respected. We wanted to send a clear message that they matter and are a part of the community, and that has long-term downstream consequences when it comes to self-worth. They're part of a community that means something."
As it turns out, creating a sustainable facility for the youth at Springwood may help them build their own sustainable futures.