The Peninsula School District officially welcomed its third of four new buildings this year with a formal ribbon-cutting and public tour at Evergreen Elementary the evening of Nov. 8. It is the first new school built on the Key Peninsula in decades.
The master of ceremonies was fifth-grader and Evergreen lifer Tabitha Baker. She welcomed district officials and visiting dignitaries while sporting a richly sequined facemask whose exuberance was surpassed only by her own eloquence.
“As Evergreen Eagles,” she began, “we are the smallest of all the elementary schools, which we believe supports strong relationships. Those connections among staff, students and families allow us to know each other well and work together to make Evergreen a better place every day. Now that we are all under the same roof, instead of in portables, we truly feel like a school community that can overcome any challenges and accomplish any goals.”
The original Evergreen, built in the 1950s, was 26,000 square feet with eight classrooms and six portables. The new building is 46,000 square feet, has two stories, high ceilings, broad hallways, 19 classrooms with big windows, a gym, an enormous commons room, a full kitchen, a large library and new playfields on 7 acres. The original gym was preserved as a community center re-named for longtime PSD boosters Hugh and Janice McMillan.
There are 230 students and a total staff of 50, according to Hugh Maxwell, in his ninth year as Evergreen principal.
“I love the openness, the light; there’s so much natural light, which was the No. 1 focus of the planning committee,” he said. “It’s such a contrast to how the portables felt. It was just dark and dreary. Now our rooms are bright and full of energy.”
“I was in a portable 12 of my 16 years at Evergreen,” said third grade teacher Therese Souers. “I’m thrilled with being in the new school and being back in the class with my kids. I was all remote last year.”
The playfields and landscaping are also an improvement, according to paraeducator Kristina Butorac.
“We spent years on the blacktop and sand on a playfield with holes and mud, and now we have real grass,” she said. “We can lead groups out there, or just roll around on the ground — the children do that frequently. They are in love with it; they’re very excited about everything.”
“We’re used to the old coziness,” said Office Manager Bette McCord, now in her 31st year at Evergreen. “I used to be able to yell down the hall for some teacher and they’d yell back, and now we’re all scattered. But the kids love it, they’re so proud of it.”
Dean of Students Christy Dalby said staff has had to adjust or create new procedures to accommodate the much bigger space and learn new technology. “It took us a while to smooth out parent pickup for this building, that was a big one,” she said. “And we still aren’t unpacked. But there are so many good things here, they outweigh the things we need to fine-tune.”
“We’ve been adapting even though it’s been a tough year working on the social distancing and keeping kids safe and healthy,” Maxwell said. “But because we’re in a new building and the staff are so excited and so appreciative, I think it’s been easier for us than it has for other schools with the challenges we’re still facing.
“Hopefully we’ll get to the point soon where people who are interested have a chance to stop by and we can safely do a little tour,” he said.
“Every community is a little bit different, but when it makes this big of an impact, it’s pretty cool,” said Brian Ho, the managing principal of TCF Architecture, who grew up in Gig Harbor and graduated from Gig Harbor High. He designed the Evergreen and Pioneer Elementary schools, as well as the ongoing modernization of Kopachuck and Key Peninsula Middle schools.
“The comment from a mom that struck me the most was, ‘This is not a KP School.’ It wasn’t like she was saying, ‘This doesn’t belong here,’ but that it was way more than she or anyone would have expected. That was way cool to hear.”
Construction of the new building was made possible by a $198,550,000 school construction bond approved by voters in 2019, the first to pass in decades. The bond funded replacement of Evergreen and Artondale elementary schools and construction of two new elementary schools in Gig Harbor, Swift Water and Pioneer. Cost-saving steps and additional state funding allowed for upgrades and additional classrooms at Key Peninsula and Kopachuck Middle schools.
Absher Construction, a Puyallup-based company, won the $24,851,000 bid for Evergreen. The project was managed by Greene-Gasaway Architects.
The new school is located at 1632 Key Peninsula Highway SW in Lakebay.
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