The walls began to fall Tuesday at the old Wainwright Elementary School in Fircrest. The project, with a total cost of $35 million, will make way for a new Wainwright Intermediate School for students in grades four through eight.
Demolition began Tuesday on the 1950s- and 1970s-era wings on the west side of the original 1924 building. Demolition of the original building will start in about two weeks.
Meanwhile, the removal of arsenic-contaminated soil from the Wainwright site is coming to an end. Tacoma Public Schools officials say recent soil samples tested below required thresholds.
Wainwright, at one time known as Fircrest School, was renamed in 1948 for World War II hero and Bataan Death March survivor Gen. Jonathan Wainwright. Although the picturesque red-brick building has been a neighborhood landmark, it is not on a historic register.
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The school held kindergarten classes through fifth grade when it closed in 2011. The new Wainwright is scheduled to open in September 2016.
Rob Sawatzky, director of planning and construction for the school district, explained several reasons for tearing down the old building.
“We are trying to be forward-thinking in the development of new schools,” he said. “Learning has changed. The built environment has a huge impact on learning.”
Old-style hallways lined with classrooms on either side don’t always provide the kind of space that today’s teachers and students need for project-based and collaborative learning, said Sawatzky, a former teacher and principal. He said the old building also had structural and seismic issues.
Tacoma Public Schools launched a building boom following passage of a $500 million construction bond in 2013. Other projects include:
Stewart Middle School: The auxiliary gym and addition have been demolished and cleared. Interior demolition started last week. The main building, which has historical designations from both from the city of Tacoma and Washington state, is being preserved in a $62 million project.
McCarver Elementary School: The district will also modernize this historical building, which dates from 1925, with high-tech upgrades, new classrooms and seismic retrofits. Total project cost: $39 million.
Wilson High School: New buildings will replace old classrooms; renovation and expansion will take place in parts of the building used by P.E. classes and student athletes; and campus utility systems will be improved. Total project cost: $51.5 million.
Even more projects are on the horizon:
▪ The Science and Math Institute at Point Defiance Park will see construction of a new building start after the first of the year.
▪ Three more elementary schools are on deck: Arlington is in the design phase, and architect selection is underway for Mary Lyon and Browns Point schools.