Old Buildings, New Schools

By Christina Henry of the Kitsap Sun
Originally published 
Sept. 12, 2016 (View Original Article)

SILVERDALE — Silver dolphins dance on the walls of the new entryway to Silverdale Elementary School. Green, blue and yellow circles suggest the sea through which the school mascots swim.

Down the hall in the “Forest Pod,” giant tree rings on the floor guide the way to classrooms flooded with natural light and smelling of new carpet.

“It’s amazing,” said second-grader Olivia Engman, as she colored a picture of a school bus. “It’s nice and clean and fun.”

Contractors are putting finishing touches of paint, flooring and baseboard on parts of the school, wrapping up a yearlong remodel. The start of classes was delayed a couple of days to Sept. 6, as contractors worked to get the school ready for occupancy. 

The $12.6 million Silverdale Elementary expansion is one of several major renovations recently completed or underway in Kitsap and North Mason counties.

In Bremerton School District, West Hills STEM Academy opened its new wing at the start of the school year, and a new roof for the high school’s performing arts center went on over the summer. 

North Mason School District is nearing the home stretch of converting the old North Mason High School into a new Hawkins Middle School, set to open after Christmas break. The project is part of a bond-funded building frenzy in North Mason, which started with completion of a new high school last fall. 

The Silverdale Elementary renovation added 3,000 square feet, bringing the building up to 58,148 square feet. Safety upgrades, including a double-door entrance, were incorporated. Once students arrive, the inner door is locked, and visitors must check in at the office, a feature now standard in most new and remodeled schools.

“It’s a really great way to know who’s in your building,” Principal Ninette Rivero said.

Technology upgrades, including giant touch-screen monitors — the 21st century version of a blackboard — are in every classroom and the new, expanded library. Students in Linda Sommer’s fifth-sixth-grade class were already putting the device to good use, learning how to write numbers with multiple digits. One student, working from a laptop on Sommer’s instructions, put the questions and examples up on the screen for the rest of the class, who were working with pencil and paper.

In the new music room, Leah Riggs led her class through a warm-up dance. Where formerly noise from the lunchroom invaded the space, the new room is soundproof to outside noise, with rich acoustics.

Windows and skylights spread warm light from outside throughout the building. The electric lighting system automatically adjusts, depending on the weather.

“How can you not be happy in a school like this?” Rivero said. 

BLRB Architects of Tacoma designed the Silverdale Elementary expansion. The contractor is Kassell & Associates Inc., of Redmond.

Staff and students were housed in other schools during construction. About half the campus was put up in Silver Ridge Elementary, the other half in Ridgetop Middle School.

Rivero joked that they felt like out-of-town relatives, coming for an extended stay. “It was a little awkward and weird,” she said. “We laughed a lot. … We made some new friends.” 

On a somber note, the school opened just weeks after 16-year-old Emily Ramm fell from a ladder at the construction site and later died. She and a friend were trying to see meteors.

“It was difficult on the staff,” Rivero said. “Even though she was from another district, she was one of ours. She was a child.”

Rivero said staff have shielded students from the grim reality of Ramm’s death, but they will likely have some observance in her memory later in the year, after the whirlwind of moving in and starting a new school year settles down.

In other projects, the new wing at West Hills STEM Academy is Phase 2 of a $3.6 million capital levy project that in Phase 1 included a roof replacement, moving the bus loop for safety, upgrades to a building on the property to accommodate classrooms and upgrades to the entryway.

The old North Mason High School, constructed in 1983, is barely recognizable, with the addition of 7,500 square feet of new classroom space, a new library, science labs, commons and more.

“We basically gutted it and started over,” Superintendent Dana Rosenbach said. “It’s going to be really a fresh new space for kids.”

Construction is in full swing on the expansion, designed by Erickson McGovern, of Tacoma. The contractor is the Berschauer Group, of Olympia. The new school will accommodate up to 650 students; Hawkins’ current enrollment is 480. 

District officials had hoped to open this fall, but initial bids came in high. The district scaled back its plans, “value engineering” the project, which delayed completion, Rosenbach said.

The old Hawkins — the original part of which was built in the mid-1960s — will be demolished, except the gym, which will remain the home of the school’s wrestling program and open for community use.