Yelm Community Schools Proudly Reopens Beautiful and Fully Rebuilt Southworth Elementary

The Southworth family standing in the new Southworth Elementary
The Southworth family attended the grand opening of the new Southworth Elementary, and was proud to see Mr. & Mrs. Southworth honored in the library. The BCRA design team on the project included a reading nook in honor of them. Photo courtesy: Yelm Community Schools

Yelm is a growing community of devoted and locally-minded residents that is deepening its connection with the Nisqually Tribe. In recent years, many community members were concerned by the state of local schools in the community and sought to bring about total reconstruction of both Yelm Middle School and Southworth Elementary. Thanks to the passing of a bond measure at 64% in 2019, Yelm Community Schools was able to make this dream possible. On Tuesday, September 7, the new Southworth Elementary officially reopened after a year of reconstruction and welcomed students into a brand-new, beautiful, and culturally-connected learning space.

Southworth Elementary building in 2022
Southworth Elementary originally opened in 1976 and has now been completely rebuilt and reopened on September 7 of this year. Students, staff, and community members are thrilled to see new life breather this long-standing fixture in the community. Photo courtesy: Yelm Community Schools

A Much-Needed Rebuild Comes to Life in Southworth Elementary

Southworth Elementary first opened in 1976. Mr. and Mrs. Southworth were beloved members of the educational community who were honored to be represented in the school upon its original opening. Over the years, the school remained beautiful to the eye, but unfortunately began to experience internal wear and tear that affected its functionality and long-term safety. Yelm community members banded together to discuss ways they could help promote the rebuilding of their beloved local schools. Southworth Elementary Lead Custodian Paul Manwiller worked for both Yelm Middle School and Southworth Elementary over the years, and saw firsthand how important it was to update both of these educational spaces.

“My wife Sandra and I were on the Citizens for Yelm Committee throughout the bond process,” Paul recalls. “We worked with the district to promote the cause and educate voters of the community as why we felt passing the bond was needed, especially for the growth we saw coming in the Yelm Community Schools district.” The schools were slowly becoming overcrowded as the Yelm community continued to grow, leaving the students with limited space to enjoy their educational experiences. After three attempts to pass the bond, voters finally pushed it into the supermajority in 2019 and the district immediately set to work on developing plans and designs for the new schools. Yelm Middle School was rebuilt first and opened in 2021. Southworth Elementary students were temporarily relocated to the old Yelm Middle School during the demolition and rebuilding of their new school. After just one year, the new Southworth Elementary proudly opened its doors to the students and community of Yelm.

A Growing Partnership with the Nisqually Tribe

Nisqually tribe  Lushootseed language on walls in the Southworth Elementary school
The Nisqually Tribe was thrilled to see their ancestral language represented on the walls throughout the school. The 4 primary representations are the salmon, the mountain, the cedar tree, and the river, pictured here with the Lushootseed translation. Photo courtesy: Yelm Community Schools

Yelm Community Schools was honored to work alongside the City of Yelm and Nisqually Tribal Council to ensure the rich history in the community was represented in the rebuild. Collaboratively they were able to work with the design team BCRA and incorporate elements of Yelm’s history and the Nisqually Tribe’s influence into the school for students to easily connect with and learn from. “Our goal at Southworth Elementary was to provide the community with a top-notch learning environment for our kids,” shares Yelm Community Schools Superintendent Brian Wharton. “You don’t do that by not involving the community and the Nisqually Tribe.”

BCRA Principal and Project Manager Heather Hocklander and her team worked diligently to properly capture the essential aspects of the Yelm’s history and the Nisqually Tribe and tie them into core themes of Southworth Elementary. The four main things they highlighted in the new school are the salmon, the water, the mountain, and the cedar tree, which can be seen represented beautifully throughout the school. “We built the school for students, teachers and staff to honor the past and support the future with a learning environment that is welcoming and safe, and provides the best value for the community,” says Heather. “Our team was honored to be a part of a thread of history of Southworth that is set up to acknowledge the past and create the legacies of the future.”

Nisqually Tribe members at the Southworth Elementary ribbon cutting standing at the stage
The Nisqually Tribe was honored to partner with Yelm Community Schools and see their rich history represented all throughout the new Southworth Elementary. Photo courtesy: Yelm Community Schools

At the opening ceremony, the Nisqually Tribe performed a ceremonial blessing over the school and shared their gratitude for the partnership with Yelm Community Schools. Nisqually Tribe Vice Chairman and Lushootseed Language Keeper Antonette Squally is a Southworth Elementary alumnus who valued the involvement and incorporation of the tribe throughout this project. “It was a little tiny school, and to see it today and the growth of the city of Yelm and the school district has been astronomical,” she says. “I want to say thank you to Southworth Elementary for putting Lushootseed language on the walls. Recognizing the words of our ancestors has strengthened our relationship as a community and I am very grateful for the bond we have built together.” This partnership between the Nisqually Tribe and Yelm Community Schools continues to grow, bringing more opportunities for appreciation and connection in future generations.

The Southworth Legacy Lives On

Kay Southworth-Martin of the Southworth family eagerly cut the ribbon to officially celebrate the opening of Southworth Elementary.
Kay Southworth-Martin of the Southworth family eagerly cut the ribbon to officially celebrate the opening of Southworth Elementary. She knew her parents Mr. & Mrs. Southworth would have been very proud of the new school. Photo courtesy: Yelm Community Schools

The opening of Southworth Elementary was honored to welcome the Southworth family to this beautiful renovation within Yelm Community Schools. In attendance were four generations of the Southworth family, each in awe of the continued legacy of their ancestors. Within the design, the history of the Mr. and Mrs. Southworth was kept close to heart, resulting in a beautiful reading nook in the library. “My mom and dad would have been so happy and proud of what you have achieved,” expressed their daughter Kay Southworth-Martin as she toured the updated Southworth Elementary. “This is a happy day for our family.” Anytime students wish for a quiet space to read or a cozy spot to listen to a story, the Southworth reading nook will be there waiting for them. The Southworth family legacy and community impact will be remembered by generations to come.

Yelm Community Schools would like to thank the concerted efforts of the voters, BCRA, FORMA Construction, and the Nisqually Tribe for their dedication, contribution, and support of the new Southworth Elementary. None of this would have been possible without the camaraderie and teamwork of committed Yelm community members and the Nisqually Tribal Council. Through this partnership, Yelm elementary school students now have a beautiful, inviting, and connected educational space to learn and grow.

Southworth Elementary
402 W Yelm Avenue, Yelm


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