As the Puyallup School District welcomes the construction of new elementary schools, it’s also saying goodbye to an old one.
As of Friday, the district officially handed over the keys of Riverside Elementary School to the Washington Premier Football Club. The club is next door at 5702 44th St. E. in Puyallup.
“To be able to know that the school is going to stay in place and it’s going to be used by the community, is going to be used by youth, is an exciting thing,” Puyallup School District chief operations officer Mario Casello said. “As a district, we’re excited that it’s going to be able to help others out.”
To be able to know that the school is going to stay in place and it’s going to be used by the community, is going to be used by youth, is an exciting thing. As a district, we’re excited that it’s going to be able to help others out.
Mario Casello, Puyallup School District chief operations officer
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Riverside Elementary School, now ReLife School, first opened in 1958 at 5515 44th St. E. as part of the Riverside School District, named after its proximity to the Puyallup River. In 1962, the Riverside School District and Puyallup School District consolidated.
In 1959, a two-classroom addition was made to the school. In 1977, a library was added. A renovation to modernize the school was last made in 1990.
As time went on, enrollment at the school declined. Between 2001 and 2007, enrollment dropped 140 students to 89 students.
In June 2007, the school board approved the school’s closure for a variety of reasons. Students were reassigned to Waller Road and Karshner elementary schools.
“Our student population was too low in the school that our school board at the time said it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep operating because it costs so much money for electricity, all the different utilities, staffing, custodial, you name it,” Casello said. “So it was not a good financial move to keep the school operating.”
Riverside Elementary School was officially closed in 2007.
The school is also located on a floodplain that “has a number of code requirements and restrictions including a restriction that disallows sewer connections,” according to district documents. Pierce County Emergency Management suggested against expansion of the school, finding “inadequate fire flow for a fire suppression system and is located in a lahar zone.”
With the district building a new school on South Hill and undertaking additions and school replacement projects, it would seem that Riverside is exactly what the district needs to accommodate new growth. But that’s not the case.
“For Riverside and its location, there’s no growth in that area,” Casello said. “All our growth is on South Hill or North Hill now.”
For years, the district looked to sell the school, with interest from churches and private schools. In 2014, the district signed a five-year lease with the Puget Sound Educational Service District to run a ReLife School program in the school. The program addresses the behavioral and academic needs of students. The lease ends in 2019.
But in the end, all opportunities to sell fell through the cracks — until they looked next door at the soccer club.
“They showed a lot of interest and had the funding available through a grant and some private money and said, ‘Yep, we want to move forward on this,’” Casello said. “It works for the soccer club because they’re just going to be able to use fields outside to play on.”
The soccer club is a nonprofit organization that provides training and soccer opportunities to the Pierce County community and has been operating in Puyallup since 2005. About 1,000 of its members play on about 10 fields.
The purchase will help the club expand and continue to serve the community, said the club’s director of coaching Seth Spidahl, along with help from their sponsors, NW Sports Physical Therapy, BMW Northwest and Adidas.
“We’ve been neighbors next to Riverside Elementary… for years,” Spidahl said. “We’ve always been interested in purchasing that land because there are two grass fields and obviously there’s a gym that we can use for futsal (indoor soccer). So there are a lot of possibilities.”
We’ve been neighbors next to Riverside Elementary… for years. We’ve always been interested in purchasing that land because there are two grass fields and obviously there’s a gym that we can use for futsal (indoor soccer). So there are a lot of possibilities.
Seth Spidal, Washington Premier Football Club director of coaching
Having an indoor gym is a nice addition for the club, Spidahl added.
“Not many soccer clubs own a gym,” he said. “Certainly we can use it for speed and agility and for all kinds of things at night.”
After a three-year process, the club purchased the school for $594,000. Money from the purchase will go toward funding capital projects in the district, Casello said.
Even the ReLife School program can continue operating out of Riverside classrooms by leasing with Washington Premier Football Club.
“We’re excited that the Puyallup School District gave us this opportunity,” Spidahl said.