Future student visits the site of her future elementary school on Harbor Hill Drive in Gig Harbor after the bond to build it passed Feb. 12. Courtesy Derek Elliott

66% of Gig Harbor and KP residents vote to build four new elementary schools.

For the first time since 2003, voters approved a Peninsula School District capital bond by nearly 66 percent Feb. 12, surpassing the 60 percent supermajority required of all school bond measures in Washington state. Voter turnout for the PSD measure was over 50 percent. All 47 voting precincts in the district approved the $198,550,000 bond. 

After PSD narrowly failed to reach the supermajority requirement on the district’s previous April 24, 2018, $220,000,000 capital bond measure by 240 votes, the Snoqualmie Valley School District announced May 29, 2018 that Robert Manahan, then superintendent of PSD, had accepted the superintendent position there. 

Under the leadership of then school board president Marcia Harris, the PSD board moved quickly to hire Dr. Art Jarvis, with more than 50 years of experience in public school leadership, to become the district’s interim superintendent. 

After a new assessment of the district’s facility needs, Jarvis presented his $198,550,000 capital bond proposal to board members Oct. 11, 2018. Jarvis said there was “no time to lose,” due to increased overcrowding. The board unanimously approved the new proposal Nov. 8, 2018, and voted to place it on the Feb. 12, 2019 ballot. 

“The plan Dr. Jarvis brought to the school board was so simple, so focused and such a good one,” said PSD board member Leslie Harbaugh. “The depth and breadth of experience he brings from districts large and small is beyond valuable. To have a man of his caliber come in with clear, fresh eyes and agree, ‘Yes, you do have all of these needs but building elementary schools and housing kids must be our focus’—it was one of those moments where you smack yourself on the forehead and ask ‘Why didn’t we think of this?’ ”

Then, in a surprise move with ballots already mailed to voters, the PSD board voted to purchase the existing Boys and Girls Club and property at its Jan. 31 meeting, subject to passage of the bond. 

That facility, known as the Jim and Carol Milgard Family Hope Center on Skansie Avenue, will achieve the first of the district’s proposed plans: providing a new elementary school now known only as “No. 10.” The building already contains nine classrooms, a gymnasium, lunchroom and offices ready to open in fall 2019, which will ease overcrowding right away in the fall. Design of a 22-classroom addition to the school will begin immediately. 

“It’s not very often we get to teach and be part of creating new schools out here for our kids to feel valued.”  

“When we learned of this opportunity, it was almost too good to believe,” said Jarvis in a Feb. 1 press release. “We struggled to find a workable site for the new school and this answer is ideal.”

PSD determined the property it already owns, located on Bujacich Road NW and originally intended for a full-size elementary school, would take too long to meet the district’s pressing need to resolve severe overcrowding in its eight elementary schools serving 1,000 more students than they were designed for. The Bujacich site lies outside the urban growth boundary, which would require changes in existing Pierce County regulations to build there, according to PSD. That, combined with the anticipated cost of extending utilities to the site, made it unsuitable to become school No. 10.

“This is really what made the Boys and Girls Club such an incredible find for us,” school board member Marcia Harris said. “For us to have nine new classrooms available right away for fall 2019 in such good condition plus the space to build the rest of the school, feels like it was meant to be.” 

The capital bond will also fund construction of the new elementary school No. 9 on land the district owns on Harbor Hill between Costco and the YMCA. The aging Artondale and Evergreen Elementary schools will be replaced with new buildings.

“The district did a fantastic job communicating the need, along with Stand up For Peninsula Schools, parents and teachers, but above all the voters in our community rallied,” Harbaugh said.

 “This is a huge win for our community,” said Evergreen PTA president Meghan Conant. “I’m overwhelmed right now with emotion.” 

Jarvis made a prediction as he addressed Evergreen Elementary School Principal Hugh Maxwell, assembled teachers and staff during an early morning meeting at the school in late 2018:

“After passing the bond measure comes the fun: envisioning what the new schools will actually look like.” 

Jarvis described his experience building schools in districts like Whidbey Island, saying the way schools are built now provide space designed for community use, especially in rural settings like Evergreen.

Like Jarvis, Maxwell sees new schools like Evergreen being a center of community activity as well, with separate entrances to enhance opportunities for building stronger community connections. 

Maxwell said the next steps will be preparing to get school No. 10 started in the fall with stakeholder input from teachers and parents. Teams from different Peninsula schools visited other districts to see how new schools are being built, the importance of natural light, and how flexible and supportive they can be for student learning.

“Our leadership team is already starting to do more envisioning of what other schools are going to look like, particularly with Evergreen and Artondale,” Maxwell said. “How are we going to build those on-site and be safe and functional while that is happening? 

“You just can’t believe how ecstatic people are,” he said. “It’s not very often we get to teach and be part of creating new schools out here for our kids to feel valued.”

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