The boys are closer to coming to Annie Wright. And some alums remain uphappy

Building an academic center for boys at Tacoma's Annie Wright Schools

Construction of an academic center for boys at Tacoma’s Annie Wright Schools will begin in 2018.
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Construction of an academic center for boys at Tacoma’s Annie Wright Schools will begin in 2018.

Annie Wright Schools’ plans for adding a high school curriculum for boys are becoming tangible: Permits for a new building and a two-story gym at its North End campus have been filed and are in the works.

The school announced early this year that it would be adding an Upper School for Boys — basically a boys high school — to its curriculum, while keeping the secondary educations of its girls and boys separate.

Annie Wright Schools, which has a little more than 500 total students, is coed in elementary and junior high, and until the coming school year, has had a high school only for girls.

While neighbors haven’t mounted noticeable opposition to the project, a group of alumnae from graduating classes that span decades have said they’re against adding a high school boys curriculum.

To add a school for older boys, Annie Wright will need to build a 26,600-square-foot, 25-foot-tall building on North Tacoma Avenue. To replace an aging pool and a gym that’s fairly small, it wants to build a 19,000-square-foot gym on a black top next to the school’s newly turfed athletic field.

As part of the new projects, the school will add more parking to the campus to accommodate the roughly 111 new students who will be added by the time the Upper School for Boys is full.

The school is seeking permits for the project: A public hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tacoma Municipal Building. Comments to the city are due by July 31.

The new building is expected to be ready for the 2019-20 school year. Starting this fall, about 18 students — Annie Wright’s first class of high school boys — will take classes in a leased space in the Tacoma Children’s Museum.

School officials have said high school classes will not be coed. Boys and girls who dorm at the private school will stay the same building, though different floors. Some extracurriculars, such as theater and arts activities, will be mixed.

Some say that will take away from the all-girls school experience.

“It was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life,” said Kelly Donahue, an Annie Wright graduate of 1998 who now lives in Los Angeles and works as a bodyguard.

Donahue briefly attended a coed high school, where she said she didn’t get called on in class as much, and girls weren’t automatically in leadership roles.

“Going to Annie Wright for four years, it was a very different experience I was very much empowered very much in a leadership role,” she said. “I credit them with me moving down to L.A., becoming a cop and then becoming a bodyguard down here.”

The historic school is tucked into a picturesque neighborhood with views of Commencement Bay and bordered in part by North Tacoma Avenue, a tennis club and a park.

It has come under scrutiny in years past when it’s sought to make improvements to its campus.

Neighbors vehemently opposed the tall stadium lights the school wanted to erect to light the turf fields it was planning to install. (The school recently completed the project).

They also criticized a retaining wall the school planned to build bordering the gulch that runs along the eastern side of the school.

The school got the turf field and retaining wall, but didn’t get the stadium lights.

Now that it’s done, school officials hear compliments from neighbors about the field, said communications director Jen Willey, who said she’s heard benign comments about the retaining wall as well.

Annie Wright recently held a meeting with nearby neighbors of the school, and expects to hear from them again at the city’s public hearing.

Notification of the project was sent out to houses 1,000 feet away from the project site, the city confirmed.

“Our goal,” Willey said, “has just been to aim to be super transparent and communication has been key and trying to invite our neighbors in and hear their comments and feedback and share the plans with them openly about all of the construction projects that are happening.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud