New Wainwright Intermediate School ‘a complete departure from the traditional’; doors open Monday, Dec. 5

12/2/2016 | TACOMA, Washington

​The new Wainwright Intermediate School—which opens its doors to students Monday, Dec. 5—is a game-changer. What was once a long-loved but deteriorating brick elementary school is now a 65,000-square-foot modern intermediate school designed to address both students' social and educational needs in a flexible learning environment.

"Wainwright is really a complete departure from the traditional," said Rob Sawatzky, Tacoma Public Schools Planning and Construction director. "It's an opportunity for teachers to collaborate innovatively and for students to take ownership of their learning. It's a school designed around students and their learning."

Wainwright, located in Fircrest, is Tacoma Public Schools' only intermediate school. Fourth, fifth and sixth-graders are eager to move in to their new school on Monday after spending the first three months of the year at Whittier Elementary, their sister school. The new intermediate school will add seventh grade next year, and eighth grade the year after.

The new Wainwright is comprised of three primary areas:

  • The three-story academic wing provides generic classroom spaces that maximize flexibility and opportunities for learning.  Teachers don't have traditionally assigned desks, but rather do their grading and planning in a teacher collaboration room.
  • The central wing focuses on exploratory spaces, and fabrication labs for researching, designing, creating and testing. Vocational studies, food science, media, 2-D and 3-D art, music, computer and graphic students can all occur in these spaces. Here the "exploratory commons" redefines the traditional library.
  • The third wing is primarily community-centric spaces that have the ability to easily transform for secondary uses. The gym, dining commons and music room can accommodate performances, theater, dance, athletics and lifelong fitness.

About the new Wainwright

Solving community concerns through design. The new school's design eases traffic by pushing the building back on the site to allow for maximum parent vehicles at student drop-off and pick-up. It also leaves the existing forest in tact by maximizing space in a vertical fashion. The building also provides flexible learning spaces that can continuously adapt to this distinct age group's needs. Trees that did have to be cut down in the construction process have been turned into benches in and around the building, or into "nurse logs" that nurture plants in the surrounding rain gardens.

Special spaces. The architect created a series of special spaces that bring unique textures, colors and shapes to light that add to the learning environment, such as a fire escape that doubles as a treehouse-like outdoor learning space or the large "seating steps" in the front commons area.

Not just classrooms and hallways. Corridors double as shared learning spaces meant to be used for learning and teachable moments. Traditional assigned classrooms are replaced with flexible, collaborative learning suites. Staff will use centralized teacher collaboration rooms rather than having assigned classrooms with desks. The building itself can even be used as a learning tool, with cutaways to reveal structural, electrical and mechanical systems.


Wainwright is one of 14 schools being remodeled or replaced thanks to a $500 million bond issue voters approved in 2013. Originally planned to be finished in September 2017, the Tacoma School Board accelerated the project with the goal of opening this past September. However, record rains and labor and supply shortages in 2015 impacted the construction schedule to the point of delaying this fall's anticipated opening. Wainwright students began this school year at their sister school, Whittier Elementary, with the plan to transition to the new building no later than Jan. 3.

Architect: DLR Group of Seattle
Contractor: Neeley Construction of Puyallup

For more information:
(253) 571-3350
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