Trading spaces: Puyallup juggles new classrooms between 2 schools

Pope Elementary School
Pope Elementary School Puyallup School District

The number of classrooms to be built with taxes approved by Puyallup School District voters last year remains the same.

But the location of those classrooms is shifting, following action Monday by the Puyallup School Board.

The board voted to reduce the size of the Pope Elementary remodel and expansion from 44 classrooms to 32, and build the extra 12 as an addition to nearby Hunt Elementary.

“The net number of classrooms is the same,” Superintendent Tim Yeomans said. “But now they are in two locations.”

Money for the projects comes from a $292.5 million bond measure approved by Puyallup voters in November 2015.

At the time, the district anticipated that it would replace Firgrove, Northwood and Sunrise elementary schools, remodel and expand Pope and build a new elementary school on vacant property owned by the school district at 144th Street near 80th Avenue. The new construction will make room for over 2,700 additional students.

Now, the Hunt addition will join the list of projects paid for by the bond money.

The Pope project is scheduled to be completed in 2020. The Hunt addition would start in the summer of 2017 and open in the fall of 2018.

Yeomans said the Hunt addition will follow the model of another school addition already underway, at Shaw Road Elementary. Hunt and Shaw Road have the same floor plan.

The $8.9 million, 12-classroom Shaw Road addition was not part of the 2015 bond package. Instead, the school board paid for the project with existing district funds, and sought state matching funds to supplement local dollars. The Shaw Road addition is scheduled to open in fall 2017.

The net number of classrooms is the same. But now they are in two locations.

Puyallup Superintendent Tim Yeomans

The idea for modifications at Pope and Hunt, first described at a school board meeting Nov. 7, sprang from the school district’s 13-member bond oversight committee, which includes nine residents appointed by the board as well as district officials. The committee’s duties include keeping a sharp eye on bond projects, and recommending changes as needed.

The bond oversight committee is recommending a second change, which the board heard about Monday night. The committee wants the district to accelerate the timeline for replacement of Sunrise.

The original schedule called for the new Sunrise to open in fall 2020, but the committee recommendation would move up the schedule by one year. The school board could vote on that proposal at its Dec. 12 meeting.

If it’s approved, four new schools — Firgrove, Northwood, Sunrise and the new elementary — would open in 2019.

The change would relieve more of the district’s burgeoning enrollment squeeze sooner. Yeomans said one government agency estimated that the Puyallup School District is growing at a rate of about 12 housing units a week.

Accelerating the building schedule also will save a year’s worth of inflationary construction costs, officials say.

Mario Casello, the district’s chief operations officer, said the revised plan would build the new Sunrise alongside the old school while it remains in operation.

He said that the construction site at Sunrise would remain “tight,” but added that “I feel like it will still be very safe.”

The new construction will take place on a portion of what is now a playfield at Sunrise. Casello said parents were concerned about what would happen to play space during construction.

“We will still have room for recess,” he said.

Officials list several reasons for the Hunt addition.

They say splitting the new construction between two schools will more evenly distribute student populations between them.

They decided that building a bigger Pope on the current site would be challenging. In addition, they fear that a larger elementary school population at Pope would generate too much traffic at drop-off and pickup times on already congested roads.

Officials estimate that splitting the construction will save an estimated $2.8 million.

Part of the savings would come from moving 10 portable classrooms now at Hunt to other growing schools around the district, thus eliminating the need to purchase new portables.

Shrinking the size of the Pope expansion also produces cost savings in some of the school’s core facilities — such as the cafeteria — that can be built smaller to accommodate fewer students.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo