Plans for Stewart Middle School and Wainwright Intermediate School in Tacoma get first look

Next on Tacoma Public Schools’ to-do list of major school building projects: modernization of the historic Stewart Middle School on Pacific Avenue, and construction of an entirely new Wainwright School in Fircrest on the site of the closed Wainwright Elementary.

The School Board last week got a look at preliminary designs from architects who have been working with planning committees on both projects.

Both the $30 million Wainwright project, scheduled to open in September 2016 for students in grades four through eight, and the $58 million Stewart remodel, due to open in September 2017, are being financed from the $500 million bond measure approved by Tacoma voters in 2013.

The board on Thursday approved a $3.6 million contract with Bassetti Architects — the firm that also worked on the restoration of Stadium High School, completed in 2006 — for work on Stewart.

It also approved a $1.9 million contract with DLR Group for the Wainwright project. DLR was in charge of modernization projects at both Lincoln and Foss high schools, and it’s also working on the renovation of McCarver Elementary School on Tacoma’s Hilltop.

Students at Stewart will move to the old Hunt Middle School in September 2015 and stay there for two school years while Stewart is rebuilt.

No students need to be moved at Wainwright because the school was closed in 2011.

Residents who want to know more about the Wainwright project are invited to a community meeting scheduled for Monday (Nov. 17).


Stewart has historical designations from both the city of Tacoma and the state of Washington, thanks to the 1924 Classical Revival main building that makes it a recognizable landmark near the intersection of South 50th Street and Pacific Avenue. The building is named for James P. Stewart, Tacoma’s first teacher.

School Board members asked architect Jordan Kiel how plans for Stewart will also help preserve the building’s historic character.

Kiel said the plan is to preserve the exterior of the historic building. That will include stripping away years of water damage and algae growth. One of the two main entry doors to the original building will be restored. The ground floor will also gain an accessible entry leading to an elevator that will take students up to the main level.

Inside, the old auditorium will be converted to a light-filled commons area with a restored stage. Kiel said the auditorium is currently underused, and its location cuts off sections of the school.

Columns bearing the school’s signature “S” crest will connect the old auditorium and new commons space. Kiel said retractable seating will allow the space to convert from commons to performance space. He said planners are looking at several options to deal with acoustics.

Stewart classrooms will be organized around clusters that will feature flexible shared learning space and hands-on lab space. The school will also gain a new gym, a new plaza area on the southwest side of the building, and a new synthetic turf field.

The plan is also to include a garden space; gardening has been a successful student-community project at Stewart for several years.

Board member Karen Vialle said that while she realizes plans are only preliminary, she hopes that the historic Stewart will be more than an “exterior shell.” And board member Catherine Ushka said she hopes the project can add to community pride.

School district planning and construction director Stephen Murakami said Stewart’s current interior is “uninviting, disconnected.” He said the new interior will have a focus on students and be designed to prepare the 90-year-old school for its next 100 years.

“It’s exciting to see it being reborn,” he said.


Wainwright is also an iconic building that stands out in its Fircrest neighborhood, on Alameda Avenue. But unlike Stewart, there is no historical designation on the building,

Also built in 1924, the red-brick building was first named Fircrest School, then renamed in 1948 for World War II hero and Bataan Death March survivor Gen. Jonathan Wainwright.

Noah Greenberg of DLR said the plan is to demolish that building and start from scratch. The school district announced over the summer that it plans to convert Wainwright from a traditional elementary campus to a school that combines the last two elementary years with the three years of middle school. (Students in the primary grades, through grade three, would attend nearby Whittier Elementary.)

Board member Debbie Winskill said that, from the outside, Wainwright looks like the kind of classic old school that could star in a TV show. She asked how the modern design of the new Wainwright will pay homage to the school’s roots in the community and its history.

Greenberg said that hasn’t been decided. He said the community has to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the old building — a facility that has structural and seismic safety issues and is not accessible to the disabled — with the possibility of a new school. That new school would be designed for the way students learn now, and for the varied ways in which they learn.

He described a new building with shared space that can be easily reconfigured for teacher and student purposes and to meet future needs.

The site plan also strives to balance the number of trees on the property with safety and security needs, Greenberg added.