It’s one thing to have a brand-new school ready and waiting for teachers, staff and students, but quite another to have your school modernized as construction goes on all around you.
Remodeling of Key Peninsula Middle School began in July 2021 and is expected to be completed by spring 2023. Thanks to cost-saving measures, the Peninsula School District could afford to update KPMS using 2019 capital bond funds for building brand new schools. The project adds 11,800 square feet to the 68,500 original square footage and 2,700 square feet of covered exterior areas.
The new entrance and administrative offices that opened for use in mid-January are a small sample of what’s in store for the revamped middle school.
Gone are the days of standing outside in cold wind and rain waiting to be buzzed into the building simply to drop something off.
Beyond the main door, the new entrance opens into vestibules designed with multiple security layers to access the interior and an all-new paging system, like the added safety features built into Peninsula School District’s four new elementary schools.
The middle school administrative offices have natural light with big windows, a new conference room, health room, psychologist office, as well as two counseling offices — all previously housed in a windowless storage space.
The finishing touches were added in March to the new gymnasium that, like Kopachuck Middle School in Gig Harbor, now boasts two full basketball courts.
“Everything is updated, new or refreshed,” said PSD Facilities Director Patrick Gillespie. “We’re trying to get that new building experience while the main building itself is still the original.”
In addition to new lighting and bleachers in the gym, a large new LED monitor serves dual purposes beyond a simple scoreboard and can be connected to a computer for video presentations, band or choir performances and special events, like eighth-grade graduation ceremonies.
“Even our sound system here is phenomenal,” Gillespie said. “It’s better than anything we’ve got at any of the other schools.”
“Our students, the teachers, the principals have been great working with. And we know it’s been difficult,” he said. “The PE classes have been very accommodating; we’ve been working very closely with dates, otherwise we would have missed some of those deadlines for the kids’ (competitive) athletics.”
Vice Principal Luke Grunberg said, “Kids pretty much roll, you know, they figure it out.”
The choir room and band room both have work left to do. Gillespie said it takes a while to go “from this to wow.” The stage, curtain, sound and lighting systems will all be new.
Richard Miller, who teaches art, showed off what will become the new art room. Pointing at a temporary wall toward the back, he said, “The wall is temporary and there will be a wall of windows behind that. We had the windows before, but the seals were broken and leaky; you couldn’t see through them. The kiln and pottery stuff will go over there in the corner. We still have storage space up top. This will be a fabulous space to do art. New sinks, tables — new everything.”
Shop class was underway in a renovated room complete with a new dust collection system and lots of new equipment. Students that day were clearly enjoying the shop class that not so long ago the school had no room for.
Gillespie said there used to be darkrooms for photography, a thing of the past, so those obsolete areas have been repurposed into functional spaces.
With the gym mostly finished, the new kitchen comes next. Gillespie said they hope to start on one of the classroom additions later in the spring.
Midway through a construction tour, the bell rang and suddenly the halls filled with students chatting and laughing on the way to their next classes.
Miller’s voice rose above the din, greeting students individually, “Good morning. Good morning. Game tomorrow. Smile people. Good morning, how are you? Stop — you’re both wearing purple — I didn’t get the memo.”
“During construction, when we had to close off big chunks of the building, it made some areas bottlenecky, so having everything back open has helped a lot,” Miller said.
Seventh-grade student Keira Johnson said she feels like they’ve kept the construction restricted from the rest of the school, but she’s enjoyed seeing how they work.
“I wish we had the big cafeteria back; I do miss having that,” she said. “And not having to walk outside to get to the gym.”
New student lockers are installed, though not quite ready for use. The bright orange, blue, green and yellow lockers are a thing of the past.
Principal Jeri Goebel said, “The original school was built in 1981 but for some reason it really has a lot of ‘70s colors.”
Gillespie said when it comes to color all of the district schools of that vintage used primary colors.
“We’re trying to make modern buildings, but are careful not to do trendy things,” he said. “When you see these new maple cabinets, they may not always be the coolest thing, but they stand the test of time.
“We’re still waiting on some new doors that aren’t in yet; long, long lead items. They’ve had some supply chain issue stuff, and doors are one that are problematic,” he said.
All four new elementary schools (Artondale, Evergreen, Pioneer and Swift Water) and the two middle school remodels (Key Peninsula and Kopachuck) were designed with flexibility in mind, Gillespie said. The storage spaces are intended to look like offices, so if the need arises to find space for staff or student breakout areas they can be easily converted into whatever kind of room is needed. “So that’s why you see windows in storage spaces,” he said.
The old home arts (home economics) room was repurposed into two classrooms, as the school no longer offers those classes. Instead, there will be more electrical service for more computers, whether it’s a CAD class, 3-D printers, or new things to come.
In the library, Gillespie said they were tasked to “make it professional yet fun.”
“You can see how dated it is now, with the weird cut-out circles covering vents, the really fun mustard and ketchup-colored countertops.” All will be replaced by new cabinetry.
Pointing, he said, “a staff lounge goes over there, bathrooms and gender-neutral bathroom. Next to the commons there will be café style seating. It’s a nice feature with windows that can be used during lunch or breakout areas outside of lunch.”
If all goes well, by the time students return next fall the contractor will be out of the building and kids can return to a normal environment, he said.
In the meantime, Vice Principal Grunberg works to rally students with Cougar Pride at lunch. Every Friday, Grunberg stands atop a table with a microphone and the scene turns wild. Cafeteria tables become drums for the kids and there’s lots of excited foot stomping underneath.
Throughout the school week teachers award Cougar Pride tickets to students for specific positive actions. As lunch begins on Friday, students deposit their tickets for the chance to win prizes at each grade level in the weekly drawing.
Meanwhile, in Mrs. Babbitt’s classroom down the hall, there are a bunch of eighth grade students enjoying a special lunch from Subway courtesy of a student who earned and shared her $50 in the innovative rewards-based system of Babbitt’s creation. She invented her own special currency called Math Bucks, and she’ll exchange a student’s Cougar Pride tickets for them.
Students quickly learned about calculating probability, with many of them valuing the Math Bucks to earn greater rewards in a smaller pool of potential winners, Babbitt said.
“There’s all sorts of ways to earn them, but the biggest points come from improving test scores,” she said. There’s also a math “market” that takes place with bins of items students can purchase with their Math Bucks. She said it didn’t take long for kids to begin offering to be the shopkeeper — for a 10% commission on every deal.
“We promised four new elementary schools over six years. We’re going to have six schools either branch new or modernized in four years,” said Assistant Superintendent Dan Gregory. “To be able to pass a bond and exceed what we wanted to do was helped by a favorable bond market and expedited construction.”
Superintendent Krestin Bahr said, “It really is an honor to work with the community. This was an unintended byproduct of passage of the bond. It’s wonderful. Fifty percent of the schools on the Key will be new — Evergreen and here.”
Gillespie said, “We have one shot to do that with the bond dollars the community was nice enough to pass for us and we want to make sure we give them the best possible product in return.”
Gillespie said when looking at Peninsula schools, the new ones “really wow.”
“When you look at the older ones, especially at the high school level and you have better systems in your elementary schools than you do at the high school auditoriums, it’s kind of a sad thing,” he said. “But that’s what bonds do.”
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