Community Education

Foundation’s campus plan centralizes seniors, preschoolers, events

Posted on February 19th, 2024 By:

A nonprofit organization’s plans for a combined senior and events center near Lighthouse Christian School have expanded to become a community campus featuring separate buildings for each plus a preschool.

Pierce County Planning and Public Works accepted Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s site and building plans for the Allen-Point Fosdick Neighborhood Center. The group is now seeking a conditional use permit.

The campus would be at the corner of Point Fosdick Drive and 36th Street.

The campus would be at the corner of Point Fosdick Drive and 36th Street. Photo by Ed Friedrich

The proposal will be reviewed during an April 24 public meeting of the Gig Harbor Peninsula Land Use Advisory Commission. The in-person-only event will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview St. The commission reviews applications for proposed developments within the community and makes recommendations to the county.

Comments can also be mailed until March 1 to Pierce County Planning and Public Works Development Center, 2401 South 35th St., Room 2, Tacoma, WA 98409, or emailed to Senior Planner Mojgan Carlson at [email protected].

Change of plans

The foundation originally sought to build an 8,750-square-foot senior center on a 13.15-acre site at a corner of Point Fosdick Drive and 36th Street that could also accommodate community events. The county, however, restricted the size to 8,000 square feet, but allowed multiple smaller structures, said Julie Ann Gustanski, CEO and president emeritus.

Campus site plan

Campus site plan. Courtesy of Greater Gig Harbor Foundation

After evaluating several iterations, the foundation’s 20-person task force endorsed a plan that features a 5,945-square-foot senior center, 4,672-square-foot community center, 6,619-square-foot preschool and 480-foot office.

Artondale project scrapped

The foundation had separately been working with the county to renovate two houses on 6 acres near Artondale for use as its headquarters, a preschool and EnviroCorps space. Cost escalation rendered what they called the community campus infeasible.

“We had a better opportunity to start from the ground up after five years of trying to work with the county on simply renovating two older homes and turning a garage into an outdoor lab,” Gustanski said in a Zoom interview Tuesday from Westport, where she was away on business. “Oh my God, it was one roadblock after another.”

Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski

Dr. Julie Ann Gustanski Courtesy of Greater Gig Harbor Foundation

John Allen, who owns both properties, “finally said I think you’d be better off putting everything at Point Fosdick and 36th,” Gustanski relayed. “You can start with a clean slate. Trying to do what was needed to two old buildings straight to code is not working. You’re putting more money in than the homes are worth.”

Less cost, hassle

A cost estimate compared the Artondale and Point Fosdick projects.

“When it came out to be a million dollars less and a lot less hassle, we decided it was a better idea anyway to have the environmental learning center, senior center and event space all in one location,” Gustanski said.

Senior center layout

Senior center layout

The 13-acre parcel is on the southeast corner of Point Fosdick Drive and 36th Street. Across Point Fosdick is Lighthouse Christian School. Across 36th is Gig Harbor city limits. The property backs up against the Tacoma Narrows Airport forested safety buffer. The site is about a mile from Highway 16 via 36th Street or Olympic Drive and near Uptown shopping, medical services and the library.

Allens donating land

Allen and wife Kathleen are donating the land. The retired developer is a fourth-generation Gig Harbor-area resident and Peninsula High graduate. He and contractors have contributed advance work such as perk holes, soil tests and a traffic study.

“It’s unusual to have such a giving person who really wants to see something happen not only for the organization but also the general community, to do so much legwork,” Gustanski said. “We’ve been so blessed to have the support of architects and engineers on the project. Everyone has been really gracious and excited about the project as well as a willing landowner.”

Preschool layout

Preschool layout

The next big hurdle is funding. After its Feb. 24 meeting, the task force will shift its attention from crafting building plans to raising money. The foundation estimated the original 8,750-square-foot building would cost $6.9 million. Now the separate senior and events buildings will be separated by a breezeway and total 10,617 square feet.

The main cost increase will be for a second set of bathrooms. Gustanski is hoping to get a cost estimate by the Feb. 24 task force meeting.

Fundraising comes next

“We know that it will be important to have a diversified portfolio of donors and some government funding,” she said. “It’s a good undertaking, for sure. I do know it’s going to take the community coming together as it often does for common causes.”

The foundation already operates a senior center and preschool. The nonprofit organization has been running a senior center out of Peninsula Lutheran Church since summer 2021. Seniors lost their dedicated space at the Boys & Girls Club on Skansie Avenue in 2019 when Peninsula School District bought the building and converted it into Pioneer Elementary School. It has grown from 110 members then to about 150-160 fairly active participants today, Gustanski said, but isn’t in its own space and some programs are off-site.

Students at Greater Gig Harbor Foundation’s Curious by Nature School play and learn at the school’s original campus on Wagner Way. The school is adding a second campus, a 3.5-acre property on Crescent Valley Drive. Curious by Nature

Around 2012, the foundation took on a foundering outdoor preschool, Curious By Nature. It has operated out of rented space on Wagner Way ever since. It now serves 124 students ages 2 to 6, plus a homeschool enrichment program for ages 6 to 9. The school offers all-outdoors programs and hybrid programs that include some indoor classroom time. The outdoor activities take place in the city’s Adam Tallman Park and on nearby property.

The school expanded to a second campus on a 3.5-acre site of the former Arcadia Montessori School on Crescent Valley Drive in January. The new campus serves an additional 60 students. The Wagner Way campus would close with the opening of the Point Fosdick facility, which will provide opportunities for intergenerational programs as well as environmental learning.

PenMet studying own senior space

PenMet Parks continues to study the feasibility of developing and operating a dedicated space for seniors. It conducted an extensive public process in 2023 to garner community input on the need and desired elements of a senior center. The project consultant is analyzing the input and developing final documents that will provide recommendations and data to inform future decision-making, said spokeswoman Zemorah Murray. The final draft study is anticipated to be presented to the board of commissioners in March.

Pickleball players celebrate after winning a point at Sehmel Homestead Park recently.

PenMet has added much programming the past couple years for seniors like these pickle ball players at Sehmel Homestead Park. Vince Dice

PenMet provided 4,144 participant hours of senior recreation in 2023, an increase of 660% from the previous year. More programming is planned for 2024, Murray said. It typically offers programs five days per week with diverse offerings as ukelele lessons, line dancing, bowling and trips.