In an unusual transition, students will move into the new, $45 million Gray Middle School in the middle of the school year.
The Tacoma School Board voted unanimously Thursday night to OK the move effective Jan. 5, the first day of school following winter break.
Tacoma and neighboring public school systems typically open new buildings in September.
But the new Gray is nine months ahead of schedule, and district construction chief Pete Wall assured School Board members it will be well ready come January.
The 750-student facility is being built on the old Mount Tahoma High School site at 6229 S. Tyler St.
It will give students and the community a new place of pride, Wall said. And opening it as soon as it’s ready will strip away the building’s attractiveness as a vacant, multimillion-dollar target for vandals.
The new Gray also will give district officials a fresh success they can point to if they ask voters for more school construction money next year. The board is scheduled to discuss the issue next month.
Moving kids in as soon as the building is completed “is the right thing to do” for a variety of reasons, School Board President Jim Dugan said. And it would occur “irrespective of a bond/levy vote.”
But he also acknowledged it can serve as “evidence of what a bond/levy can do.”
Gray is one of the last in a skein of school renovations and new construction paid for with a $450 million bond issue voters approved in 2001. It’s a state-of-the-21st century school that combines technology with touches of history and environmentally friendly construction.
Some of the highlights:
• Technology: Classrooms come equipped with interactive white boards, document cameras, sound fields, computers and other learning tools.
• History: 200 50-year-old Glu-Lam beams from the old Mount Tahoma High School were saved, sandblasted, reconditioned and installed in the new middle school. “We expect them to last another 50 years,” Porter Brothers Construction project manager Jonathan Bingham said.
• Environmentalism: The new Gray can teach its students a thing or two, Wall said during a tour Thursday. Several rain gardens around the campus will collect stormwater runoff from the roof, filter it through the vegetation and soil, and return it to the water table. Skylights, light wells and huge picture windows draw daylight into the building, even on a cloudy day, reducing the necessity for artificial light.
Some staff members, parents and one student told School Board members Thursday night that they’re eager to move in.
Leaky pipes, sticking lockers and other signs of age plague the current building on South 60th Street, eighth-grader Zack Young said.
While there’s some concern that academic time might be lost in the frenzy of the move, school staff members believe it will be balanced out by the improved learning environment in the new building, sixth-grade team leader Sue Coley told the board.
The kids are beyond excited, she added.
They’re especially buoyed, she said, because “someone cared enough to give them a new school.”
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659
The new Gray Middle School
Address: 6229 S. Tyler St.
Cost: $45 million; $30 million construction contract, $15 million for architect’s fees, site prep, landscaping, furnishings and other items
Size: 116,872 square feet
Capacity: 750 students