Building upgrades, school safety improvements would reach every neighborhood

Plan renews commitment to all TPS students

Plan renews commitment to all TPS students

The Tacoma School Board unanimously approved a resolution to place a school construction bond on the Feb. 11, 2020 ballot.

If approved, the $535 million measure will:

  • Replace or renovate eight deteriorating neighborhood schools across Tacoma
  • Improve student learning environments
  • Implement health, safety, security, and seismic upgrades
  • Repair deteriorating roofs, alarm/sprinkler systems, and HVAC/plumbing systems for clean water and safe air
  • Improve playground/athletic facilities
  • Make other capital improvements


​Lowell Elementary first-graders pass under a rotted wood overhang

​Lowell Elementary first-graders pass under a
rotted wood overhang on their way to their
classroom, which is separated from the
school's main campus.

Principal Renee Rossman spends a lot of time thinking about her school's boiler. And leaky windows. And how to keep her youngest Lowell Elementary students safe as they walk from their classrooms on the lower campus, across a public sidewalk to the main building to eat lunch or go to the library.

"We're freezing on Monday morning unless we leave the boiler on over the weekend, which is expensive," Rossman said. "We've got teachers using towels to sop up water coming in from the windows. But, more than that, safety and security is the biggest concern I have in our building."

Lowell, built in 1949, is one of eight deteriorating Tacoma neighborhood schools scheduled for replacement or historic modernization as part of the capital bond package.

  • The other schools (in alphabetical order) are: Bryant Montessori, Downing Elementary, Fawcett Elementary, Hunt Middle School (Phase 2), Oakland High School, Skyline Elementary, Whittier Elementary
  • Oakland, a building on the City of Tacoma's register of historic places, would get an entire interior renovation, but the exterior would remain.
  • Hunt Middle School's work would add to the first phase of construction scheduled to start in January.

Safety improvements at all schools

The package also includes safety and security upgrades at every Tacoma school, except for schools that received those improvements as part of the 2013 capital bond.

If voters approve, schools will get:

  • Controlled access at the main entrance: Front doors remain locked after the school day starts; visitors must use a call box (with voice and video capability) to connect to the main office. A staff member can then remotely unlock the door to let the visitor in the building.
  • Security cameras
  • Identification card readers for school staff to enter the building
  • Intercoms to improve building communication

Taking care of the basics

A number of Tacoma's schools still have years' worth of useful life, although they need upgrades to return them to quality learning environments.

Whitman Elementary, Jennie Reed Elementary, Mann Elementary, DeLong Elementary, Point Defiance Elementary, McCarver Primary, Skyline Elementary, the Madison Early Learning Center, and IDEA at Park Avenue will receive significant improvements to mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems; exterior improvements; ADA accessibility; bathroom upgrades, flooring and paint. The School of the Arts in the 9th and Broadway Building downtown will receive ground and middle floor improvements.

Across the district, schools will receive Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility improvements and energy conservation systems; about half of the schools would get elevator repairs or replacements.

The former Gault Middle School on the East Side will receive safety improvements; TPS continues to work with the City of Tacoma and other community organizations to determine a future use for the site.

Five sites would receive entire roof replacements; another 10 would receive boiler replacements.

In addition, some schools will see improvements to their athletic facilities, including drainage improvements and new turf in Stadium Bowl, and field and restroom improvements at Lincoln High School.

Data-based recommendations   

The Lowell experience isn't unique. Other deteriorating schools have similar problems. So Tacoma Public Schools had to determine the highest priority needs to point limited resources where they can do the most good.

TPS used data from an independent assessment of all district facilities to inform decisions about which schools need replacement soon, and which can still get useful life from the structure with some degree of investment.

"By having a third party examine the buildings and equipment, you get a more accurate, impartial picture of what's going on," said Morris Aldridge, TPS executive director of Planning and Construction. "As a result of having done that, this bond package is built around needs, not wants."

One of the biggest needs, Aldridge said, is taking care of deferred maintenance. Just like at home, problems that start small can escalate if not addressed.

"Our roofs and the exterior of our buildings are prime examples," he said. "Being in the Northwest, we have to look at those critically. Once water gets inside, it quickly causes deterioration. Where we see those issues starting to brew, we need to have a plan and act accordingly."

On the face of it, this bond package would provide an investment in buildings, but what it's really about is investing in students and staff, Aldridge said.

"Great schools allow our students, community, and teachers to come into a space and not worry if they'll be safe and comfortable. It's a poor educational environment if air is not moving if heating and cooling are not working properly," he said. "If teachers and students are subjected to that, they're focusing on their environment, not their learning. We want them to be able to focus on their job of teaching and learning."

History of support

Historically, the Tacoma community has understood the need to replace deteriorating schools and has supported that need, said School Board President Scott Heinze. "We are grateful for that support."

"Like those that came before it, this new bond measure supports students in every Tacoma neighborhood. It will help us keep our momentum of moving toward a school district where every child, regardless of background or economic circumstance, has a neighborhood school that provides a safe and challenging learning environment," Heinze said. "This bond will help TPS continue to close achievement gaps and expand learning opportunities. We've made a lot of progress in the last eight years, but there still is much to accomplish."


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