Bay Terrace Community & Education Center

Bay Terrace Community & Education Center
Tacoma, WA
4.6 acres
Community facility

Year and month completed:
March 2014

Project partners:
Client: Tacoma Housing Authority (THA), Head Start
Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture: GGLO
Construction: Absher Construction
Civil Engineer: KPFF
Structural Engineer: PCS Structural Solutions
Commissioning, MEP Engineer: Glumac
Lighting: Candela
Irrigation: Design 2426
Photography: Lara Swimmer, Alex Kenton, Ted Panton

LEED Gold/New Construction

Project Summary:

The Bay Terrace Community and Education Center provides high quality educational support services for residents in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington—a community, which has historically had high poverty rates and underperforming schools. Armed with research, which shows that physical activity can expand receptivity to learning and facilitate social engagement, the design team ultimately concluded that the facility’s layout should focus on creating opportunities for casual movement.

Hilltop’s population is roughly over 12,000 with 32% of residents living below the poverty line. Because the neighborhood’s public housing went into disrepair in the 1990s, the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) set out to redevelop the area with the goal of driving private investment and increasing density (the latter being a citywide goal). The first phase of this initiative was completed as dilapidated public housing units were replaced with townhomes, cottages, midrise apartments, and the Learning Center. Playing a central role in this plan, the Learning Center was sited adjacent to the affordable housing buildings and within walking distance to local resources including, an elementary school, church, job training, and retail services.

Building off movement based learning principles coupled with Active Design strategies, the design team integrated the following three elements into the building’s design to achieve a learning environment supported by movement: 1) integrated and enticing vertical transitions, 2) spontaneous and planned social spaces, and 3) indoor spaces that are visually and physically connected to outdoor spaces. In order to create “vertical transitions,” the building design includes steep grade changes throughout the site, linked by a unifying central stairwell and ramp. The continuous system of ramps that run adjacent to the stairs ensure that the Learning Center is fully accessible to both toddlers and elderly users. The building accommodates both formal and informal learning by offering a variety of flexible spaces. Programming mainstays include a Head Start preschool program and job training classes, which promotes career-building opportunities in nearby industries.

The educational core of these programs is supported by the connection of indoor learning spaces to outdoor spaces and nature. The Head Start classroom opens up directly into an enclosed playground, and the community room, where programs for older adults are typically held, connects to the community porch. Glazing throughout the site helps to maximize biophilic cues, such as access to daylighting and views of seasonal plantings. Designers also dedicated 36% of the total site area to vegetation, promoting biodiversity and supporting the mental well being of users. Remarking on the indoor/outdoor connection of spaces, Holly Harden, a Head Start Family Advocate said, “Play and learning are not separate activities and this classroom and the play spaces allow for that. The large windows provide the children with natural light to work and learn by, enhancing the bright and active mood of the classroom. We have so enjoyed this classroom space as it lends to the flow of creative learning.” As some of the children who participate in the program often do not have a convenient opportunity for safe and active play in their daily lives, this benefit takes on added value.

The Bay Terrace Community and Education Center ultimately succeeds in creating an active and inviting venue for providing educational and community services to Hilltop residents. Its innovation extends from its commitment to movement-based learning to its strategic partnerships with local institutions. The facility demonstrates how a community center can be especially effective when co-developed with affordable housing, encouraging residents to enhance useful skills and social connections to their neighbors.

Active Design Highlights:

  1. An emphasis on stairs and ramps throughout the building makes vertical movement central to the building experience, as opposed to a service element. The stairs and ramps encourage occasional bouts of movement for users of all ages and physical abilities.
  2. Large glass windows around the building façade create a sense of visual intrigue and invitation for pedestrians along the street edge. Interior social spaces are wrapped in windows, bringing in daylight and outdoor views.
  3. Spaces are designed to allow for casual social interactions. The main corridor features seating, a book nook, and is built wide enough for congregation.
  4. Street trees and seasonal plantings along the street edge enliven the pedestrian realm.
  5. Outdoor spaces for different age groups are integrated into the plan. A community porch next to the main entrance, and a playground on the inside edge of the building have direct access to indoor social spaces.
  6. Building is strategically sited, with proximity to key neighborhood destinations and resources.
  • User Side Images Image 612
    Before redevelopment of the neighborhood began, the Tacoma Hilltop area was experiencing vacancies and buildings going into disrepair. Photo: Tacoma Archive.
  • User Side Images Image 609
    The front entry offers a comfortable space for socializing and enlivens the surrounding pedestrian infrastructure, through landscaping, pavings, and a water fountain. Photo courtesy of GGLO.
  • User Side Images Image 611
    The building's vertical elements and social spaces are flooded with daylight and activity. Photo: Lara Swimmer Photography.
  • User Side Images Image 610
    An enclosed, outdoor playspace is provided adjacent to the indoor educational room. Photo: Lara Swimmer Photography.