Hugh Maxwell, left, with school board members and Superintendent Art Jarvis, in vest. Photo: Peninsula School District, Larry Steagall

The official groundbreaking ceremony was livestreamed on Facebook.

A small but excited group gathered June 5 as Peninsula School District Superintendent Art Jarvis, Principal Hugh Maxwell and the five school board members put feet to shovels to break ground for the new Evergreen Elementary School. Pandemic restrictions significantly limited the number who could watch in person, but the district livestreamed the groundbreaking on its Facebook page.

“A building doesn’t make a school. It is the people,” Maxwell said. “But adding this building to an already amazing school is going to make things even more incredible.”

“I am so thrilled with our new Evergreen Elementary School,” Jarvis said. “One year away, a beautiful school, and a wonderful fit for this community. Promises kept.”

Absher Construction, a Puyallup-based company, was awarded the $24,851,000 bid. The new school is scheduled to open in fall 2021. 

“We are delighted Absher took an interest in Peninsula School District,” said Project Manager Jeff Greene of Greene-Gasaway Architects, which designed the new school. “They have a great reputation and strong management. We are happy to be working with them. Absher has built a number of big projects, including replacement of Wilson High School in Tacoma.”

Patrick Gillespie, director of facilities for the district, said that the bid process for Evergreen was delayed briefly due to COVID-19 to allow companies to sort out the processes of bid preparation during a time of social distancing. With the extension, “we picked up more bidders and the bids were more competitive. We were happy with the process,” he said. The district was required by state regulations to accept the lowest qualified bid.

Although Evergreen was designed prior to the pandemic, Gillespie and Greene both said that the plans, which emphasize flexible space in addition to traditional classrooms, will allow for more separation of students if that is needed.

“If we all had a crystal ball — the one we have now is fractured badly — we might have a different answer. During the pandemic new things are being learned and tried, and there is potential that teaching will look a little different in the future,” Gillespie said. “At some point we hope that things get back to whatever normal is. You wouldn’t want to build something now for what the situation is today and have it become obsolete in a couple of years. We continue to build according to what we think education will look like in a few years.”

The school bond passed in February 2019 will pay for construction of two new schools, Pioneer and Elementary School No. 9 (as yet to be named) and replacement buildings for Artondale and Evergreen. Because school construction is deemed essential, there have not been any significant delays. Pioneer should open in fall of 2020 and the other three schools are scheduled to open in the fall of 2021.

Jarvis said at the May school board meeting that school opening in the fall will be different from previous years. State rules, which had not yet been released, would likely not allow normal operations. Leadership has developed guiding principles and will work on a comprehensive reopening plan with oversight by an advisory task force including students, community members, staff and union representatives.