Education

New Peninsula schools completed ahead of schedule

Posted on September 3rd, 2021 By:

Four years, four schools. That was the vision of Peninsula School District when voters approved a $198.55 million bond in 2019. With the Sept. 7 start of a new school year just around the corner, the district is actually ahead of schedule, thanks to a series of fortunate events.

Peninsula skated around disruptions to the building industry wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, said Patrick Gillespie, director of facilities. Those disruptions to other entities in fact may have worked in the school district’s favor.

Pioneer Elementary on Skansie Avenue, the district’s first new elementary school in 34 years, opened for students on Jan. 19, although in the original bond plan it wasn’t slated for completion until the end of 2022.

exterior of pioneer elementary school in gig harbor

The new Pioneer Elementary School, which opened in January 2021, is one of four new elementary schools in Peninsula School District paid for by a bond approved in 2019. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now

Construction on Swift Water Elementary wrapped up over the summer, and its doors will be open for students when school starts. The project, on Harbor Hill Drive across from the YMCA, was set for completion this fall. The school’s name recognizes the Swift Water band of the Puyallup Tribe who were the original inhabitants of the area now called Gig Harbor.

Exterior of Swift Water Elementary School in Gig Harbor

The new Swiftwater Elementary School, set to open Sept. 7, is one of four new elementary schools in Peninsula School District paid for by a bond approved in 2019. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now

A new building to replace Evergreen Elementary on the Key Peninsula was originally planned by the end of 2022, but was pushed ahead more than a year, under the district’s accelerated schedule. The new Evergreen, adjacent to the old
school building, is scheduled to open on the first day of school, according to district spokeswoman Aimee Gordon.

“If the new building is not ready, students will remain in the current school building until they move into the new building,” Gordon said.

Exterior view of new Elementary School in Longbranch that will be opening on Sept. 7.

The new Evergreen Elementary School, set to open Sept. 7, is one of four new elementary schools in Peninsula School District paid for by a bond approved in 2019. Architectural rendering courtesy of Peninsula School District

After the new Evergreen Elementary opens, the old school will be demolished and an existing gym will remain for district and community use.

Workers pave the parking lot at the new Evergreen Elementary School on Key Peninsula

Construction on the new Evergreen Elementary School on Key Peninsula was under way on July 30. The school, one of four new elementary schools paid for by a 2019 bond, is expected to be open by Sept. 7, the first day of school. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now

A new Artondale Elementary won’t be open by Sept. 7, Gordon said, but will debut sometime this fall. The new building is being constructed on the school’s existing upper playfield. Classes will start for the Otters in the old building, the original portion of which dates to 1952. The district called this project “on time” in a recent newsletter since the building was expected to be done by the end of 2021.

After the new school opens, the old building will be demolished and a new playfield will be constructed.

architectural rendering of exterior of the new artondale elementary school in gig harbor

The new Artondale Elementary School, set to open sometime during the fall of 2021, is one of four new elementary schools in Peninsula School District paid for by a bond approved in 2019. Architectural rendering courtesy Peninsula School District

Cost savings on Peninsula elementary school projects will allow the district to renovate Kopachuck Middle School and Key Peninsula Middle School, which were identified as the next priority during bond planning. Contracts have been awarded, and both projects are set for completion sometime in 2023.

What voters approved

Voters on Feb. 12, 2019, approved the $198.55 million bond whose purpose was to relieve elementary crowding and improve schools’ safety. The estimated tax rate of the bond, with a maximum length of 20 years, was 79 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate for taxes payable in 2021 is 77 cents per $1,000. For Peninsula schools, property owners also paid in 2021 $1.44 per $1,000 for the local “enrichment” levy and just shy of $1.03 per $1,000 for the state school tax.

The district’s capital budget from the bond is amplified by an estimated $37 million in state construction funds, $1.6 million in investment earnings and $6.9 million in impact fees from Pierce County and the city of Gig Harbor.

B&G Club purchase key to accelerated building plan

The district in 2013 bought the parcel of land on which Swift Water Elementary is located well before the 2019 bond was floated. It made the purchase anticipating growth in the elementary student population in Gig Harbor’s North end.

In 2019, the Boys & Girls Club of South Puget Sound decided to sell its Gig Harbor property. The district bought the property shortly after the bond was approved with the idea of using it for the second of two new Peninsula elementary schools to serve a growing population of young families.

After the property purchase, minor tenant improvements were made to the old Boys & Girls Club building during the summer of 2019, and the facility for the 2019-20 school year provided four fifth-grade classrooms for students from
Discovery Elementary. Four preschool classrooms were also housed in the building.

Renovation included an approximately 39,000-square-foot addition and modification of the interior to create a full-sized elementary school with 30 classrooms and capacity for 550 students.

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Pioneer, which opened in January, is a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math and arts) magnet school and is open to students throughout Peninsula School District.

Having the existing Boys & Girls Club building to renovate worked to the district’s advantage, Gillespie said.

“What that allowed us to do is move that project up,” Gillespie said.

And that allowed the district to consider shifting its entire timeline. District officials saw a window of opportunity to build all four elementary schools more or less at once and agreed to move forward on the accelerated plan.

“It’s amazing to think that just last February we actually did groundbreaking. This whole wooded lot. And in a year and a half, we’re opening a school,” said Swift Water Principal David Brooks, former principal at Discovery Elementary. “It wasn’t an option not to open in September because there wasn’t going to be space there to put the kids.”

Getting in front of supply chain issues

Supply chain issues in the building industry were already a thing, even before the pandemic hit. By accelerating its construction schedule, Peninsula School District got ahead of the curve.

“When we moved everything up, not only do we save on inflationary costs, but we’ve also, unintended — because no one intended a pandemic — kind of got in front of the supply chain,” Gillespie said.

School construction was deemed an essential service under the state’s pandemic closure plan, so building could continue even as other projects and industries languished.

“When other projects were shut down, we were still going,” Gillespie said. “And so, we were still able to get a lot of the parts and materials we needed. And people wanted to work for us because we were still going.”

Peninsula has long-range plans to address high school facilities, but that would require another bond, according to district officials. The original portion of Gig Harbor High was built in 1978. Peninsula High’s original portion was constructed in 1946. Henderson Bay High is newer, built in 2002.

Information on new school buildings

Bond funding available: $198.55 M
State construction “match”: $37.19 M
Bond interest funds: $1.64 M
City & county impact fees: $6.9 M

Artondale Elementary

Address: 6219 40th St. NW, Gig Harbor
Principal: Jessica Rosendahl
77,155 square feet
34 classrooms
Anticipated cost: $40.35 M*
Bond-approved opening: Fall 2021
Projected opening: Fall 2021
New playfield projected opening: Fall 2022

Evergreen Elementary

Address: 1820 Key Peninsula Highway S, Lakebay
Principal: Hugh Maxwell
50,616 square feet
19 classrooms
Anticipated cost: $34.9 M*
Bond-approved opening: Fall 2022
Projected opening: Fall 2021

Pioneer Elementary

Address: 8502 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor
Principal: Stephanie Strader
73,683 square feet
30 classrooms
Anticipated cost: $51 M*
Bond-approved opening: Fall 2022
Opened: January 2021

Swift Water Elementary

10811 Harbor Hill Drive
Principal: David Brooks
73,967 square feet
31 classrooms
Anticipated cost: $38.9 M*
Bond-approved opening: Fall 2021
Projected opening: Fall 2021

*All elementary schools were designed and built to the same district standards. Costs varied due to individual differences in school sites, according to the district.

Key Peninsula Middle School modernization anticipated cost: $35.1 M
Kopachuck Middle School modernization anticipated cost: $33 M