Lincoln High School principal Ruth Medsker has spent the past two years overseeing various aspects of a $93 million modernization project at LHS.
Lincoln High School principal Ruth Medsker has spent the past two years overseeing various aspects of a $93 million modernization project at LHS.

Teachers are unpacking their classrooms and contractors are wrapping up work for the fall reopening of Lincoln High School, which will usher in 600 ninth- and 10th-graders in its first year.

Lincoln High was constructed in 1906, and expanded over the years until its closure in 1981. It started serving as an interim facility when other schools were under construction in 1997, the last being for Cascadia Elementary and Licton Springs K-8 during the 2016-17 school year.

The $93 million modernization project to reopen LHS as a new comprehensive high school started in spring 2017, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3, at Lincoln’s historic school entrance, with students starting class the following morning.

LHS will have capacity for up to 1,600 students, but is starting with ninth and 10th grades for the 2019-20 school year, bringing in a junior class in 20-21, and finally a senior class in 2021-22.

The ninth-grade class is at capacity, with a smaller 10th-grade class this year, due to sophomores having the option to stay in their previous school, said LHS principal Ruth Medsker. Around 100 students are matriculating from McClure Middle School in Queen Anne for their freshmen year.

“We’re locking off parts of it — the fourth floor — and then we’re working on what we can do with the basement,” Medsker said of the 257,000-square-foot LHS building and the small enrollment for the school’s inaugural year.

Medsker has spent two years overseeing the reopening of Lincoln High School, and before that she was principal at West Seattle High School.

The district’s oldest existing high school, Lincoln has 48 classrooms, and there will be 36 teachers this year. Most class sizes will be less than 30, Medsker said.

Students will come into LHS through a secured main entry on Interlake Avenue North, which connects the north and central wings. The historic main entrance could not be brought up to ADA-compliance standards.

The landmarked interior staircase was preserved, with glass and handrails added to meet code requirements.

A celebrated renovation project inside the historic high school is the old auditorium that was turned into a library, which will also provide spaces for tech services, college and career services, and tutoring.

“So it will really be a space of digital learning,” Medsker said.

Hanging in the library is a painting, “Vancouver’s Discovery at Restoration Point,” by Lincoln Class of 1943 alum Bill Holm, which he created in 1965-66 as a memorial gift. Holm will be in attendance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“So we worked very hard to get that painting back here,” Medsker said, “and it feels like it was just made for this space.”

The second floor includes space for photography, yearbook and computer science courses. There are three computer labs, and each student is provided with a laptop, though Medsker said they’re encouraged to bring their own.

Science rooms and flex spaces are on the third floor, while a makers space is on the main floor, where students will have access to laser cutters, 3D printers, injection molders, wood shop tools and robotics equipment.

“Robotics was a lot more popular than we thought it might be,” Medsker said.

She said a design-thinking course has been packaged with a history course, which all ninth-graders and half of the 10th-graders want.

“We’ll see how that goes, but it’s a big lift,” she said, adding it’s important for girls and students of color to have early exposure to technology learning.

Medsker said a small gym will be supplemented with space for spin and yoga classes, and the school is also making due with a tight weight-lifting room.

The east building was added to Lincoln High School in 1959, and will also reopen in September, though it’s due for more improvements in 2021, through funding from the Building Excellence V (BEX V) Capital Levy approved by voters in February.

There is a black box theater and space for Lincoln’s large music program. Due to new graduation requirements, music was moved to before school, Medsker said.

The Lincoln High principal said she hopes the performing arts center will be ready for a spring musical. There are 1,000 seats currently, but the chairs are not ADA compliant. Medsker said plans are to save the three center seating sections and remove the smaller side sections in favor of more storage space.

A two-story commons space in the central wing can be used for eating lunch, with the upper level providing space for student government.

LHS activities coordinator Christy Neuschwander said 18 students attended a leadership camp ahead of the school start through the Association of Washington Student Leaders, and have been meeting once a month since November. They’ve helped design Lincoln High apparel and gear, craft a student constitution and set budget priorities, Neuschwander said. The 20 members of the student design team are all incoming sophomores from Ballard, Roosevelt, Ingraham and Garfield.

The commons space opens to the outside through a roll-up door. The central courtyard provides additional eating and activity space for students, and Medsker said she’d like to raise money to add more to the front of the high school.

“We keep reminding our community that we’re an urban school, and urban schools are a little different,” she said.

The gymnasium will accommodate basketball, volleyball and wrestling, but the lack of a field at LHS means moving around for soccer and football. LHS athletic director Brent Brakke said the district works with Seattle Parks and Recreation to find fields, as well as other schools. The gymnastics program is being run at Seattle Pacific University, and girls and boys swimming will take place at the Queen Anne Pool in fall and winter, respectively.

A new Lincoln High School PTSA has raised at least $60,000, Medsker said, and is being led by ninth-grade parents Lisa Rivera Smith — running unopposed for Position 2 on the Seattle School Board — and Eric Lutzer. Some funds have already been used to provide students with Lincoln High shirts and to support the associated student body.

“It’s really been hard to know where the gaps will be,” Medsker said. “We’re really well funded for the first year.”

More information about the school can be found at