Contractors have finished installing eight murals at the former Wilson-Pacific school complex, bringing the story of the landmark art pieces full circle.
In a city with a here today, gone tomorrow streetscape as new construction sweeps away the old, this corner of North Seattle is an emphatic statement to the contrary.
Rescued, cleaned, carefully moved and curated, they have been in the last two weeks installed in the exterior walls of the new buildings under construction on the 17-acre campus. The idea is to bring some of the best of the old buildings at the former Wilson-Pacific School to the facades of the new buildings.
The murals, painted by Seattle artist Andrew Morrison with Krylon and Rustoleum spray paint, depict portraits of Indian people, including such signature figures of American history as Chief Seattle, Chief Joseph, Geronimo and Sitting Bull.
The 25-foot-high, 20-foot-wide murals carry the gravitas of the figures they depict.
“I painted them as big as I could, from the love of my heart,” said Morrison, an Apache and Haida native. “I wanted to do something to give back to the community.”
Painted from 2001 to 2013, Morrison said he wanted to do something to enliven the blank walls of the former school buildings that could inspire the students. Over the years the collection just kept growing, and before long the murals defined the look of the campus. And they still do.
As the new Cascadia Elementary and Robert Eagle Staff middle schools come out of the ground, the faces looming from the murals seem to look on with stern approval.
Moving and preserving the murals as part of the $81 million construction project was no easy process, said Adam Wilson, senior project manager for Lydig, the contractor on the job. Workers cut the murals free from the old walls using diamond-tip saws to slice the artwork free, still attached to 8 inches of the concrete walls behind them.
“The fun thing about construction is it is something different every day,” Wilson said. “And this was definitely different.”
Stored for eight months, the murals will soon be temporarily covered with plywood to protect them as construction continues, Wilson said.
That the murals survived was a triumph of teamwork and community support. First slated to be photographed and then destroyed during early planning for the schools back in 2013, the school district listened to opposition from around the country and rethought the project to incorporate the artwork into the new buildings.
But the murals’ challenges were not yet passed: Vandals defaced the murals in 2015. Once again the community rallied, as volunteers stepped up to help clean and restore the murals to their original condition.
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“A lot of understanding and compassion is what made this happen,” Morrison said, looking at the murals Friday in their new locations. “I am ecstatic, I feel just tremendous. Just imagine the commitment from everyone — the school district, the construction team, the architectural team, the community.”
The seven former Wilson-Pacific buildings from the 1950s are being replaced with two new schools.
The new Cascadia Elementary School will accommodate up to 660 students. It will front on North 90th Street and Wallingford Avenue North. The new Robert Eagle Staff Middle School will serve up to 850 students and will front on North 90th Street and Stone Way North.
The play field will be relocated between the two schools, and will be open to the community, as before.
Construction began last year. Students will begin attending the new schools in September 2017.