Cedar Park Elementary School


Seismic upgrades are vital to keeping our historic buildings functional and safe in the 21st century. What’s significant about Cedar Park Elementary School’s history?
Cedar Park Elementary was built in 1959 and was designed by Paul Thiry, the Pacific Northwest’s father of architectural modernism. In 1981 it was converted from a school to a live-in artist colony; 30 years after that, Seattle Public Schools returned the building to its original use as an elementary school.
The building was designated as a Seattle landmark, so our upgrades had to follow the standards set by the Landmark Preservation Board. Instead of changing the structure to fit our vision, we had to reach the exact conclusion that the architect did in 1959.
How did your team connect to meet that challenge?
We had to connect early and often, flowing ideas back and forth with the team to determine an “invisible” retrofit solution that wouldn’t disrupt the original aesthetic.
What bold solution did you come up with?
Our engineers brought up the idea of using Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP) to structurally bond the existing roof to the new panels throughout the building. FRP was the code-approved “structural duct tape” that accomplished the necessary upgrades while honoring the structure’s historic character. It’s not very pretty, but it was perfect in this situation, as the upgrades were hidden under new roofing or concrete patching.
How did you come up with this idea?
We researched and synthesized information from similar projects. FRP is typically used for localized seismic upgrades in concrete structures—for example, wrapping concrete columns for reinforcing confinement, or upgrading existing concrete shear wall capacities.  At Cedar Park, FRP provided an unobtrusive positive connection between each of the concrete elements. 
What did the rest of the team think of using structural duct tape?
PCS may have come up with the initial solution, but the whole team collaborated about where and how to utilize this idea. At first the Seattle Building Official was startled at the expansive use of FRP we proposed, but they quickly got on board after we shared our rationale for the material.
What else contributed to the project’s success?
Early conversations and understanding of the building’s parameters in the planning and execution stages. Constant collaboration with the team allowed the push-and-pull of ideas that led to using FRP.
What lessons are you taking forward from this project?
First, bring in specialty contractors early in the design phase. We were able to lean on their experience and learn the best ways to apply the FRP from the beginning. Then, fill your toolbox with knowledge – talking with our team helps us form new ideas and varied options to meet any diverse challenge.
Rick Oehmcke joined PCS Structural Solutions in 1987. Rick heads up the Building Information Modeling (BIM) team at PCS and has served as a Principal in Charge on many of the firm’s educational, commercial and residential projects. He enjoys the challenge of coming up with unique solutions through collaboration across design disciplines and construction trades.
Project Photographs provided by Studio Meng Strazzara.