The snip of a ceremonial ribbon marked the grand opening Thursday of the sixth and last newly completed elementary school at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Evergreen Elementary, which opened to students in January, is the last of a series of schools built on the military base since 2013.
The building program had its roots in a partnership begun in 2006 between the Clover Park School District, which operates the six JBLM schools, and the military to evaluate conditions and capacity at each school.
Most were built in the 1950s or early 1960s, but Evergreen was built in 1991.
The outcome of the efforts at JBLM prompted a national look at deteriorating schools and those with inadequate capacity on military bases across the country. In 2011, Congress included $250 million in a defense appropriations bill to address the problems that had been discovered.
Carter Lake and Hillside elementary schools, both on JBLM, were the first to be built under the program. They were followed by three more elementary schools: Merriwether, Rainier and Beachwood.
Retired U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who represented Washington’s 6th Congressional District from 1977 to 2013, spearheaded the drive to fund the nationwide military base school construction program. He was on hand Thursday for the dedication of the last JBLM school.
He said that Joseph Westphal, then-undersecretary of the Army, told him a study showed there were 36 military base schools across the country that needed to be replaced. Dicks said he heard from Robert Gates, then the secretary of defense, that the department was considering replacing two schools in Kansas.
“I said ‘What about the other 34? Why don’t we do them all?’ ” Dicks recalled.
Thursday’s grand opening celebration included speeches and performances by Evergreen kids, followed by tours of the school.
Here are some of the event’s highlights.
Debbie LeBeau, Clover Park School District superintendent: “We are not only officially opening this new school. We are also celebrating the determination, hard work, dedication and perseverance of our partners … Our students and staff are thriving in this new school.”
Marty Schafer, Clover Park School Board president: “I think it is especially significant that we are celebrating our new school during April — the Month of the Military Child. Washington state is home to more than 52,000 military children who have at least one parent serving in the military.”
Retired U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks: “It’s been fun for me after leaving Congress to be able to come out here to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and see these six schools we started the funding for.”
Evergreen is a hub providing services to special needs and physically challenged kids from throughout JBLM, and the new school includes special features built with their needs in mind. Among them:
▪ Wider hallways to accommodate kids who get around on wheelchairs
▪ Hydraulic lifts in some restrooms
▪ A physical therapy room with mirrored walls so kids can see themselves making progress and mounted swings to support interactions with therapists
What teachers love about the new Evergreen:
▪ Larger classrooms with lots of daylight
▪ Smartboards, electronic display boards that permit teachers and students to write directly on the board
▪ A sound system with microphones that can be used by teachers and students. It saves teacher vocal cords, and helps soft-spoken kids be heard by everyone in class.
Grand opening surprise
Companies that worked on Evergreen — architects BCRA, construction firm Skansa and OAC Services — presented the school with a check for $6,500 for Evergreen’s science program.
Evergreen Elementary by the numbers
School opened: Jan. 3, 2017
Grand opening: April 20, 2017
Estimated cost: More than $50 million, most from the U.S. Defense Department, with just over $10 million in state matching funds.
Square feet: 99,886
Number of floors: 2
Student capacity: 761
Staff members: 93
Source: Clover Park School District