Education

School district promises classroom doors for Discovery; Here’s the plan so far

Posted on June 29th, 2022 By:

Yes, Discovery Elementary will get classroom doors.

No, it won’t happen this summer.

After complaints from parents and teachers — ignited by the school shooting in May in Uvalde, Texas — Peninsula School District has promised it will install classroom doors at the school to improve safety and create a less distracting learning environment.

Discovery is the only remaining school in the district with the outdated “open concept design,” hence the absence of doors on most classrooms in the building.

District officials held a forum June 8 at the school, fielding complaints and suggestions from parents and teachers fed up with the arrangement. One longtime teacher there said the lack of doors has been a topic of discussion for decades.

A couple of parents at the June 23 school board meeting continued to press the district for action.

Parents vent at board meeting

Tia Weniger, with three children at Discovery, said her family recently moved to the district and loves the school, but the noise resulting from open classrooms has been distressing to her kids.

“My children now have to come home and have a quiet room to decompress and to get over the overstimulation that they have every day,” she said.
Weniger described one especially difficult day when a student in another class had been yelling and crying much of the day.

The exterior of Discovery Elementary in Gig Harbor.

Noise resulting from open classrooms at Discovery Elementary make it difficult for students to pay attention, parents say. Vince Dice

“How can we ask teachers to support and instruct and keep the attention of our children if they are fighting the outside noises, and how can we ask children to pay attention when they are having to filter out distractions coming into their rooms?” Weniger asked.

Erin McAllister, incoming co-president of the school’s Volunteer Parent Organization, has been leading the call for doors at the school and said she was there to keep pressure on the district.

“The teachers and staff are amazing, but they deserve an equitable learning environment with every other school in this district because it’s just not right now,” McAllister said. “I haven’t heard what’s happening (since the forum). Is anything happening? Is nothing happening?”

Initial steps have been taken

In fact, Superintendent Krestin Bahr said, district officials have since the meeting taken initial steps to replace the doors as soon as possible.

But as Facilities Director Patrick Gillespie explained, there’s no way the doors can be obtained and installed over the summer.

After the forum, district officials did a site walk with Discovery Principal Delonna Halliday. They addressed some immediate safety concerns, clearing away vegetation from the front of the school and other mitigation strategies Gillespie said the school doesn’t want to publicize for security reasons.

District officials also met with city of Gig Harbor building officials to give them a heads up on the plan. Bahr thanked Mayor Tracie Markley for offering to write a letter of support for the project.

Gillespie said he’s been working with a consultant on what it would take to complete the project and to install doors in a way that’s compatible with other building systems like HVAC and fire suppression.

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Once the parameters for feasibility have been established, the district can develop cost estimates. From there, they would need to obtain permits and put the project out for bid.

District officials will try to cobble together multiple funding sources to pay for the doors, which the assistant superintendent said in an email could cost several hundred thousand dollars.

Bahr said the district is looking at a combination of grants and partnerships, plus state and federal funding.

It’s not going to be cheap, or soon

“It’s not going to be a cheap effort, nor should it be,” Bahr said. “And so please know that we will be looking for opportunities for organizations to partner, grant opportunities and also lobbying efforts legislatively, potentially. Also, it looks like, in the national budget, there may be some safety and security budgeted items coming forward.”

Gillespie said there are still a number of unknowns. Looming large are ongoing

Discovery Elementary in Gig Harbor

Supply chain issues will make it impossible to complete the project before school starts this fall.

Orders on doors for two middle school renovations have been eight to 10 months out, Gillespie said. And the problem is getting worse, not better.

“So, we don’t know how long it’ll take. We won’t know that till we actually get somebody on board and actually start to order those materials,” Gillespie said. “We’re clearly not going to be able to do that before the end of summer.”

Gillespie indicated the district would likely be looking at next summer to complete the project. If things moved quicker, they’d have to look at options to work around school being in session, he said.

“So those are all things we’ve been looking at,” Gillespie said. “We haven’t really had any absolutes yet on it, but we’re definitely pretty far into it at this point, in talking to all the right people and trying to figure out the right way to do this.”

One thing nobody in the district is talking about at this point is waiting until the next school bond, an option that was briefly discussed at the forum but now appears off the table. That would be a solution years in the making.

Gillespie urged the Discovery community to be patient as the district works through the steps.

“I think one of the important pieces about this is doing it right, not doing it fast,” he said. “We want to make sure we do it right, so it gets done properly for the long term and not have to go back and make corrections because we just went too fast. So, we’re trying to do it right, but we are working as fast as we can and we’ve got all the right people in place at the moment to move forward.”