A fresh start is coming for students, teachers, and administrators at Peter G. Schmidt. Tumwater School District voters approved a 2014 bond to build a new elementary school and make other improvements throughout the district. I sat down with Principal Jack Arend and Assistant Principal Keith Rhoades to find out more about the $25 million dollar project, and to talk about locally-owned Forma Construction’s work to have the doors open on September 7 for the first day of school.
Dating back to 1957, Arend tells me Peter G. Schmidt was the oldest building in the Tumwater School District. He says their school, along with other buildings, had modernizations over the years like a new gym and library, but safety concerns still remained. “That building was created at a time when multiple entries into a building were ok. Every single class had an outside door. It just created some security risks.” Principal Arend says the new building has fewer doors, and during school hours there will be limited access to the building. People will be expected to enter through the main entrance and check-in with the office.
Another top priority for the new school is better technology for students, staff, and teachers. The new building can incorporate more technology due to an improved electrical grid. Every classroom will feature enhanced audio and ceiling speakers, making it easier for teachers to use microphones, audio-visual equipment, and help hearing-impaired students.
The more than 600 students will also have the advantage of not being in separate buildings anymore. “This building will allow everything to be under one roof. You won’t have to walk in the rain. Kids will stay drier,” Principal Arend explains. This also means, for the first time, the elementary school will have interior hallways. “The heart of an elementary school is when teachers can display their kids’ work,” says Principal Arend who can’t wait to see artwork lining the new halls.
Along with interior hallways, the new school boasts pod spaces configured to allow for better group learning atmospheres. Assistant Principal Rhoades says the new design will even make it possible for teaching to continue during transition times during the day. “We’ve all just created a lot of really wonderful learning spaces in the building.” And on those dreary Washington winter days, students shouldn’t be affected too much. Principal Arend says, “The classroom spaces are beautiful – lots of natural light, huge windows, and very tall ceilings. We hope what we have designed is a really great school, but also a wonderful venue for community events.”
Other changes taking place will benefit everyone arriving the first day of school. The staff will have a much bigger designated parking lot, and busses will park behind the school in their own space. The parent lot will be very similar to what it was before, but Assistant Principal Rhoades says they have plans to increase efficiency and safety. “There’s going to be some big changes to how we do our parent pick-up and drop-off procedures.”
One thing that won’t change is the presence of portables. Peter G. Schmidt moved two of its double portables across their lot next to the new building. These will be used to house the sixth graders in their last year at the school. At the start of the 2017-2018 school year, sixth graders will move to the middle school. “Curriculum wise, developmental wise, all those things it’s the right place for sixth grade students. It makes sense,” Principal Arend says about the move to middle school. And once there are no longer sixth grade classrooms needed, the portables can be moved within the district or used for other activities.
Also staying put is one of the original portions of the old school. It’s the most recent addition and previously was used to house the library, preschool, and intervention classrooms. For now they don’t have a specific use defined, but the district is already exploring possibilities.
With almost 70,000 square feet of space, the new Peter G. Schmidt school will be full of possibilities itself and Principal Arend says he couldn’t be happier. “We are thrilled now that the level of the physical structure of the building matches the level of our teachers. We have world-class teachers – now they get to work in a world-class building.”
Teachers were welcomed back to the school on August 22 and can begin setting up their classrooms prior to the September 7 first day. The front office is scheduled to open on August 24 for new registration and students can drop off their supplies on September 6 between 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. “It’s just that feeling of something new. We all like it when we get something new. And here our community has a brand new gorgeous elementary school,” says Principal Arend in summary.
An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place on October 4 at 9:00 am and will include the students. For more information on Peter G. Schmidt or the Tumwater School District project you can visit their website or Facebook page.