Heavy equipment operator Jacob Bennett, ready to start his day’s work Monday, sat in the cab of an excavator parked in the lower lot of the old Artondale Elementary School. From the sidewalk above, a group of construction workers and Peninsula School District personnel watched in anticipation.
“We’re going to take that big machine right there, grab ahold of that building and tear it down,” said Bill Markham of Lincoln Construction Inc., general contractor for the construction of a new Artondale school and overseer to demolition of the old school.
The original Artondale Elementary building dates to 1959, according to Patrick Gillespie, director of facilities for Peninsula School District. The new school, adjacent to the old one, opened on Nov. 22. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now
The original part of old Artondale Elementary dates to 1959, according to Patrick Gillespie, the district’s director of facilities. The school served generations of students up until Nov. 22, when the new Artondale opened.
Bennett, with subcontractor Sierra Pacific Construction, revved the excavator’s motor, lifting the boom and angling a giant claw toward the faded walls of the old building.
“Crunch, crash, tinkle.” Wood, glass and sheetrock rained down from the ginormous bite taken out of old Artondale’s side.
Demolition on the old Artondale Elementary School began Monday. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now
Among the group watching the demolition was Shannon Gillespie, 20, Patrick’s daughter and a former Artondale Elementary student. Her last year there was 2012. Home on break from Eastern Washington University, she jumped at the chance to say goodbye to her old school. Some of Gillespie’s favorite memories are of the playground.
“There was a big rock in the playground area, and I just remember climbing on it all the time,” she said.
Gillespie remembers the courtyard where her teacher let students read outside.
“My fifth-grade teacher would open the door, and she had her dog and his name was Tugboat. He was so cute,” she said. “He’d wander out there, and we’d play out there a little bit, like go read when we had reading time.”
Shannon Gillespie, left, and her father Patrick Gillespie, Peninsula School District’s director of facilities, watch the demolition of the old Artondale Elementary School on Monday. Shannon, 20, now a college student, formerly attended Artondale Elementary. Her last year there was 2012. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now
In the hallway, there was a map of the states.
“Yeah, I remember trying to jump and hit the top or like looking around and seeing the capitals, because in fifth grade I think we had to learn the capitals of the states and trying to memorize that.”
She remembers everyone vying to help with lunch duty.
“That was like the funnest thing. I remember everyone wanted to do it and be a part of that. It sucked when it wasn’t your turn,” she said. “I still know a lot of the people I went to school with here. So that’s pretty cool.”
Communications personnel from Peninsula School District livestream the demolition of the old Artondale Elementary School on Monday. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now
The new Artondale Elementary is one of four schools built with funding from a 2019 capital facilities bond. The $198.6 million bond paid for the replacement of Artondale and Evergreen elementary schools and construction of two new schools, Swift Water Elementary and Pioneer Elementary.
The district conserved money from the bond in part by accelerating construction schedules and so will also be able to renovate Kopachuck and Key Peninsula middle schools.
Artondale was the second-oldest school in the district next to Evergreen, the original portion of which was built in 1955. The old Evergreen school has already been torn down.
The old Artondale building was just over 52,000 square feet; the new school is just over 77,000 square feet.
The new Artondale was built on the old school’s upper playfield, which allowed students and staff to remain in the old building during construction. Once the old school is demolished — a process that will take three or four weeks — a new playfield will be built in its place.
Artondale Principal Jessica Rosendahl (in blue hardhat) joins communications personnel from Peninsula School District as they livestream the demolition of the old Artondale Elementary School on Monday. Christina T Henry / Gig Harbor Now
Gillespie said nothing unusual was discovered during the emptying out of the old building, no time capsules or historic artifacts. Pierce County firefighters recently used the gutted building for training, Gillespie said.
“There’s learning in this building right up to the end,” he said.
Shannon Gillespie had mixed feelings on seeing her childhood school razed.
“I think it’s more sentimental not that I’m seeing it torn down, but I’m excited that the future generations have a nicer school than I did. Because I do remember when there were roof leaks and there’d be like, buckets around,” she said. “I’m sad that the place where I made my memories is gone. But I’m excited that there’s a new place for other people to make those memories.”
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