Special Reports

The castle’s new clothes

Construction project manager Stan Fillips can feel the excitement from the architects to the engineers to the contractors.

Renovating Stadium High School is a once-in-a-century event, and they’re elated to be part of that history.

“Everyone wants – to be blunt – to have this job on their résumé,” Fillips said. “It’s a great building. How many opportunities do you have to work on a building that looks this nice?

“Everybody wants to do a good job.”

After nearly three years of planning and design, the construction phase of Stadium’s $85 million renovation is under way.

The elegant chateauesque school, with its 475 windows and fairy tale turrets overlooking Commencement Bay, stands as a cherished Tacoma landmark.

But much of its interior is cramped, inefficient and inadequate for contemporary education.

The project’s challenge is to retain and shore up its famously historic exterior while transforming the interior into a state-of-the-art hall of learning.

The school’s 1,640 students and 125 staff members have relocated to the old Mount Tahoma High School campus on Tyler Street for the two years of construction.

Though some demolition and construction happened was carried out earlier, major renovation work started this summer.

Workers are removing asbestos, lead paint and other hazardous materials in the main school building, nicknamed “the castle.” Demolition experts are selectively removing walls and ceilings that must be replaced.

The 30-year-old annex that once housed industrial arts classes has been razed.

The renovated campus is slated to reopen in the fall of 2006, the centennial of its original school opening.

Though the school has undergone numerous upgrades over the decades, this project marks the most substantial renovation and expansion of the 98-year-old building.

All electrical, plumbing, communication, and heating and ventilation systems will be replaced. Elevators will be installed in the school’s two front towers, allowing students in wheelchairs full access to the six instructional floors.

A two-story performing arts center and gym complex will rise where the industrial arts annex and the Broadview Apartments stood.

The masonry building will have a contemporary look, with a glass-walled galleria that opens into the courtyard facing the castle.

“The recommendation from everybody was to not distract from the castle, and not to try to mimic it in a phony way, but to complement it,” said architect Paul Popovich.

Popovich’s firm, Krei Architecture, is designing the renovation, with assistance on the arts/gym complex from Bassetti Architects.

The school, updated for 1,800 students, will see many more changes. For example:

• The performing arts/gym complex will feature a 450-seat theater, band and choral classrooms, an 1,800-seat main gym and one auxiliary gym. Stadium currently has one gym, which seats 480.

• The existing gym will become a two-level commons/cafeteria to seat more than 600 students, about 150 more than the current cafeteria.

• School parking spots will double, with 220 stalls in the two-story garage to be built on the existing parking lot. Regulation-size tennis courts will sit atop the garage.

• The cafeteria’s circular 1960s-era addition – which some liken to a spaceship – will be demolished.

• The library will double in size when it moves to the existing cafeteria space.

• Bathrooms will no longer be in short supply. Boys, girls and staff restrooms will be at both ends of each instructional floor.

• Building wings will include a variety of classrooms, including science labs, to accommodate a “school-within-a-school” model that groups students with specific teachers throughout their high school years.

Principal Jon Kellett said faculty members haven’t considered that arrangement, but the design allows for it.

Maintaining Stadium’s historic character is a priority for the district and the legions of alumni, community members and historic preservationists who regard the school as a sentimental and regional icon.

The school lies within the Stadium-Seminary Historic District that’s listed on national and state historic registers. The castle also sits on Tacoma’s Register of Historic Places, which means the district must clear exterior design plans with the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The historic designations recognize the castle’s exterior, not the interior that’s been remodeled extensively through the years.

During the design phase, a district-appointed historic advisory committee suggested which building elements to save and ways to restore them.

The committee, made up of historic renovation architects and a historian, also worked with school representatives and designers to balance restoration with instructional needs and costs. Results of their combined efforts include:

• The corridor system, which aligns classroom doors on the Commencement Bay side with windows overlooking the water, will remain.

• The auditorium’s proscenium arch framing the stage will be saved. But instead of remaining a full auditorium, the area will become a two-story lobby, with separate classrooms, that allows through traffic.

Before, the auditorium was often closed to through traffic, requiring students to trek downstairs, cross the main floor, and go upstairs to reach the other side of the second and third floors.

• Contractors will try to restore as much of the baseboards, chair rails and other wooden trim as possible. But removing, stripping and refinishing the trim could prove too costly and difficult to achieve beyond the main floor.

“A school can’t be a museum. It has to be an educational facility,” said historic advisory committee member and architect Gene Grulich. “It’s our intent not that it’ll be like it was when it was first built, but a close resemblance to the image most people have had over the last 100 years.”

The Stadium modernization, at a cost of $85 million, is among the largest historic renovations in the state. But it’s in the same range as two others.

The two-year renovation of the state Capitol is estimated at $116 million. Renovation and expansion of Roosevelt High School in Seattle, which broke ground this month, will run $84.5 million.

Meanwhile, a new 1,800-student campus for Mount Tahoma High School, including a stadium and swim center, carried a $77.7 million price tag.

School district taxpayers approved funding for the Mount Tahoma and Stadium projects as part of a $450 million bond measure in 2001.

Builders say it’s far more expensive to renovate a building than tear it down and rebuild.

A major cost comes from bringing old structures up to building and seismic codes.

Workers, for instance, will replace grout where necessary between the thousands of red bricks forming the castle exterior. They’ll insert thin steel pins through the grout to attach sections of brick to the castle’s underlying structure.

Finally, instead of pressure-washing the bricks and sandstone, they’ll hand wash them with soap, water and brushes.

Inside, they’ll erect walls of concrete and steel in each of the seven stories, giving the building more support in case of an earthquake, Fillips said.

They’ll also pour a 21/2-inch layer of concrete on each floor. Together the floors and walls will create a seismic diaphragm, allowing the building to move as a whole during an earthquake and avoid major structural damage.

But workers must first erect temporary structural supports floor by floor, then dismantle them as the permanent structure goes up.

“Essentially we construct an area twice,” said Fillips, an employee with Turner Construction, which was hired by the district to manage the renovation.

The Stadium dollar total might sound huge. But architects, school officials and Skanska, the general contractor, said they constantly work to control costs.

Whether it’s choosing a paint color or heating system, or considering whether to restore plasterwork, Fillips said, “We see how much flexibility do we have. Do we want a Cadillac or can we get by with a Buick?”

He said he believes the project can be done within the budget.

“It’ll be like walking into an old building that’s brand-new,” said Principal Kellett, who’s worked extensively on the renovation plans. “There’s going to be so many advantages for our kids.”