Group seeks McKinley school preservation

Historic Tacoma is urging school district to nominate now-empty, 105-year-old building for historic register

Staff writerNovember 11, 2013 

Historic Tacoma has added McKinley Elementary School on the East Side to its watch list in an attempt to draw attention to the 105-year-old building’s uncertain future and the vacancy that has left it vulnerable to deterioration and vandalism.

The building remains sound, according to Tacoma Public Schools officials, although vandals tagged it twice in October and once again last week. But historic preservationists are worried that the building could fall into disrepair if the district doesn’t find a permanent use for it.

“When buildings are empty vandalism happens. The longer buildings are vacant the more they become blighted,” said Sharon Winters, vice president of Historic Tacoma.

The group is calling attention to the building after neighbors expressed concerns about the building’s future, Winters said. Susanne Marten, who lives in the area and is a former president of the Pacific Avenue Business District, said that the building at McKinley Avenue and 38th Street is an important anchor in the neighborhood.

“That intersection is the entry point to a network of business districts. It is a vital intersect and it is unfortunate that the building is empty,” Marten said.

Frederick Heath, a popular Tacoma architect, designed McKinley in the American Renaissance style. The school opened in 1908.

Due to low enrollment and budget cuts, the Tacoma School District closed the school in 2011. The district plans to use the building to house students from McCarver Elementary School while that school is renovated during the 2015-16 school year.

It could use McKinley to house other displaced students as the district makes it way through 10 years of projects funded by the school bond voters approved this year. But after that, its future is unknown.

Historic Tacoma hopes to see Tacoma Public Schools find a permanent use for the building, and also is urging the district to nominate McKinley for the Historic Register of Tacoma Places.

The district has decided to remain neutral on adding the building to the historic register.

“We don’t have a position either way,” said Stacy Flores, facilities communications coordinator for school district.

Flores said that McKinley’s long-term future depends on district enrollment numbers that are impossible to predict. Landmark status will make no difference in the district’s plans for the school.

Flores said that McKinley will soon undergo a review to determine what upgrades and renovations are needed to make it usable for students, even on a temporary basis. Any changes will be basic, focused on functionality and would not alter the historic facade.

Winters said that though the building can be nominated for the historic registry without the district’s support, Historic Tacoma hopes to move forward with a nomination in partnership with the district. However, meetings with the district on the subject have been unfruitful so far.

A 2009 assessment of McKinley by Kingtree Studios indicated that McKinley is an ideal candidate for the registry due to its architectural and historical significance. The district decided against a nomination then as well, due to the uncertain future of the school.

Historic Tacoma has eight other buildings on its watch list, including another school district property: Hoyt Elementary, a satellite school for Washington Elementary, which is undergoing a remodel. The district has not yet said what it intends to do with Hoyt.

Eva Revear: 253-597-8670 eva.revear@ thenewstribune.com

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