Washington’s wet winter was great for the snowpack, and the regional construction surge has been a boon for business.
Neither, however, was good for the Wainwright Intermediate School project in Fircrest. Problems dealing with saturated soils and difficulty in securing materials and workers have forced the Tacoma School District to postpone Wainwright’s opening from fall 2016 until after the winter break at the latest.
Parents of Wainwright-bound students are understandably unhappy about their children having to move mid-year when they were led to believe that the construction project was coming in on time. Many say they feel blindsided by the district. When they were surveyed as to which alternative they preferred for temporary quarters – attending nearby Whittier Elementary or being bused to the old Hunt Middle School – they didn’t feel they were given enough information to make a choice. The district opted for Whittier as the more economical choice.
Another issue is that the district had redrawn school boundaries to channel more students into Whittier. Now the Wainwright-bound students will be added to that increase, and many parents are concerned about crowding and safety issues with having to use the school basement for some classes.
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The new Wainwright – which will educate fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at first – will expand to include seventh- and eighth-graders later. It is being paid for out of the $500 million bond Tacoma voters approved in 2013.
Construction began last summer and was supposed to be completed in time for the 2016-2017 school year. But in addition to the wet conditions and construction delays, the contractor has had to deal with unexpectedly contaminated dirt. Removing it is made more difficult by the plan to keep many trees on the site.
From a practical standpoint, it’s hard to fault the district for pulling the plug on a fall opening. It’s not clear whether throwing more money at the project would have resulted in getting it finished quickly enough, and in the end the district has to look at the bottom line. It has a total of 14 schools to renovate or replace as part of the bond measure.
Students might be a little crowded and inconvenienced for a few months at Whittier, but it’s not a huge problem compared to what students have to deal with at other schools. Students at Stewart Middle School, for instance, used the basement for years.
Much of the discontent among Wainwright parents over the delay in opening is probably a residue of years of feeling sidelined by previous school boards and superintendents. Many were angry about losing their beloved neighborhood school and seeing it replaced with one that not all children will be able to use because it will have an International Baccalaureate focus.
The district is now promising parents that students will be in the new Wainwright no later than January. That’s one promise it had better be able to keep.