In June 1954, the growing population in southwest Seattle led the Seattle School District to plan for its first new high school in some 30 years. The school board selected a site in the Westwood neighborhood near White Center, across the street from Denny Junior High School.
Aerial view of Chief Sealth, taken in 1963
The school was named for Noah Sealth, the most prominent American Indian leader in the region at the time of the city’s settlement. Chief Sealth was regarded as an influential friend by the founding fathers who named their town, Seattle, after him.
The construction of the new school was unique for the region, although it had been used extensively in other countries. It was selected because of its ability to withstand earthquakes. Known as a “thin-shell” type of building, the structure’s construction consisted of all concrete with three-inch walls and a roof constructed of a concrete base with a built-up roofing finish. This large “barrel” roof, which covers the gymnasium and auditorium, was built on the grounds, and then eased into place in a mere four hours by a team of 26 men. At the time, it was the largest roof in the Pacific Northwest.
Chief Sealth High School opened with 900 students in grades 9–11. Construction continued into 1958. The school’s spacious gymnasium, which could seat 2,000, auditorium, seating 1,150, and activities area were made available to community activities.
View of Auditorium, taken 1973
The first graduates were the Class of 1959. Enrollment grew and, by 1960–61, there were 13 portables on the grounds. Enrollment peaked at 2,206 in 1962–63. An addition in 1969 gave the school a learning resource center and a business education area.
In 1988, West Seattle parents debated a proposal to create a “mega-Sealth.” In the plan, West Seattle High School would close and its students consolidated at Sealth. Sealth, in turn, would expand into Denny Middle School, whose students would be sent to Boren and Madison. The value of the larger school would have been in providing students a larger number of classes from which to choose. This plan did not become reality, however.
By the turn of the century, it was apparent to all that used the school that, after 50 years of use, Chief Sealth was in need of significant renovations. Beyond the years of wear and tear on floors, walls, furniture and equipment, single-paned windows created regular drafts and the occasional broken window. An aging boiler often ran too hot or not at all leaving students hot or cold while trying to study. The auditorium, while spacious, was a near circus behind the scenes with a precarious catwalk that few students dared to use. The gymnasium suffered water damage in 2007, forcing the basketball teams to play the rest of that season in a temporary home. Broken pavement in many locations caused a hazard and seismic (earthquake) safety upgrades were needed throughout. A renovated entry way and library provided students and staff with some access to newer technology; however, access to the latest technology for the student body as a whole remained few and far between.
Friends of Sealth is a non-profit corporation supporting Chief Sealth International High School’s Academics, Arts, Activities, Athletics and Alumni.
Since 1947, Bassetti Architects has been the architect for many well-loved and long-lived Seattle buildings. Its founder, architect Fred Bassetti has helped shape the region’s look and civic conscience over a long career including creating Action: Better City in the late 1960s, which called attention to Pioneer Square, Gas Works Park and other overlooked city assets.
Bassetti Architects continues this legacy of working with public and non-profit agencies to provide meaningful, enduring and delightful design solutions that are responsive to site, environment and context. Bassetti Architects was chosen as the lead architect for the Chief Sealth International High School modernization/Denny International Middle School project. To learn more about Bassetti Architects visit their website: www.bassettiarch.com
DKA has always put great emphasis on designing, building and strengthening our community by working on public and non-profit community projects, including schools. Founded in 1985, DKA is dedicated to doing projects for communities in need. DKA is also dedicated to community outreach and engagement, involving our neighbors in the design and building process.
Chosen as the Project Manager for the BEX III Levy program, DKA oversees the successful construction of all seven schools within BEX III, including the Chief Sealth International High School modernization project. To learn more about DKA please visit their website at: www.dkarch.com
Well into its third generation of family ownership, Absher Construction Company is one of the northwest’s largest, oldest and most diverse construction organizations. Absher’s construction and construction management work spans many sectors including schools, federal courthouses, transportation hubs and more. Striving to provide optimum value for each construction dollar, Absher provides clients with the finest in construction services—emphasizing teamwork, effective communication and success for all project stakeholders.
Absher was chosen as the general contractor for Project 2 which includes the modernization of Chief Sealth International High School, the building of the new Galleria/Commons and new Denny International Middle School. To learn more about the Absher Construction Company visit their website at: www.abshernw.com