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WSA gets a home with more room to roam

POULSBO — Walking through the framed and freshly built structures of the new West Sound Academy Campus, head of school Nellie Baker stops inside a room that will soon house one of two high-tech, state-of-the-art science labs.

“This will not be a science program where you read a textbook and answer the questions in the back,” she says with a smile.

The private college-prep school, currently based in Suquamish, has always been able to tout a low student-to-teacher ratio and a hands-on learning experience for children from grades six to 12.

But a new $3 million, 20,000-square-foot campus, spread out over four buildings and surrounded by towering firs and views by Ne-Si-Ka Bay, will vivify further the school’s educational mission, providing an academy imbedded in nature and with space for students and teachers to roam.

“What this campus does for us is deliver our curriculum to our students in a more creative manner,” Baker said.

The sheer size of the new campus has everyone involved at WSA excited. The school’s capacity will increase by almost 7,000 square feet, not counting the 20-acre site where the school will be located. It will also be able to accommodate up to 100 students, up from last year’s enrollment of 83.

Aestetically, it will also be a far cry from the academy’s current location in the Suquamish Way strip-mall next to the Texaco Gas Station.

“Our mantra has been, ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore,’” Baker said. “We’ll be in a real school.”

The academy, which will be situated behind the Northwest College of Art and use the same driveway to the north of State Route 305, is building on 10 of those 20 acres it first purchased back in 1999.

The first of three planned phases on the project began with a ceremonial groundbreaking in February this year and is planned to be completed in late October, when students will move in for the first time.

Four buildings are currently under construction, which wrap around a planned garden and circular driveway, “so we have this courtyard campus style with the buildings surrounding it,” Baker commented.

Each building will be sided with cedar shingles and painted with natural earth tones to further blend with the academy’s natural surroundings.

Upon entering each of the four structures, visitors will first see a living-room style space where students and teachers can do anything from collaborate on a project to curl up with a good book. The roofs will be open all the way to the structural beams to provide a feeling of openness.

The northernmost administration building will house offices for Baker and others but also provide the campus library, computer lab, and multipurpose room for school performances and assemblies.

The building closest located to the campus entrance will house a permanent gallery, which Baker said will showcase students’ and local artists’ work. As the arts are a focus at the school, the academy will include performing and visual arts classrooms and dance studio as well.

But Baker is quick to add that West Sound is a “college prep school with a healthy dose of the arts,” she said, and not the other way around.

“We teach the arts because it helps students to find their voice,” she said.

The two middle buildings of the campus will house the majority of classes for students — one for the “upper level” (grades 10-12) and one for the “lower” (grades 7-9).

Also included in Phase 1 is a sport court and soccer field for physical education.

Baker added that as the school grows, they may eventually seek an athletic director and begin to compete in certain sports, though at what level isn’t known. Loosely planned is a Phase 2, Baker said, to add one to two more academic buildings, and a Phase 3, which would create a full-size performing arts center for both school and community use.

But no timeline has been set on either project.

The school’s destiny at the new campus was set in motion when a deal was made with Norum Properties, which WSA sold the 20-acre property to in an agreement that the real estate company would be involved with the building of the new school. Frontier Bank has provided the funds to build and Tim Ryan Construction, of Poulsbo, is the chief contractor.

“It’s just so awesome,” Baker added. “I’m so excited.”

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