New Tacoma elementary school will open this fall. Here’s what students can expect

Tacoma’s new Fawcett Elementary will honor its past while thinking toward its future.

The school on East 60th Street is set to open in September to about 450 students. The school’s construction is 70 percent complete.

The previous Fawcett Elementary was built in 1950 and was expanded in 1976. The building was demolished in Spring 2022. The students are currently using McKinley Elementary.

The $43 million project is funded by a portion of the $535 million school construction bond, which voters passed in 2020.

Fawcett Elementary will capture the current times: an individualized learning environment, connectivity to the digital world and a STEAM-supported makerspace giving students the ability to 3-D print, paint and make pottery.

“I want students to love coming to school, to wake up every day and want to be in the classroom,” Sarah Fischer, associate principal and architect at BLRB Architects, said. “And when they leave to want their kids to come to the same school. This is a generational community.”

The public school will celebrate its history. In the hallway on the way to the gymnasium there will be a timeline wall. Starting with a 1976 time capsule from the bicentennial celebration, continuing with the history of Tacoma and ending with a 2023 time capsule created by students.

Greg Stidham, Tacoma Public Schools capital projects supervisor, said that during the school’s demolition, neighbors would walk by the site, pointing out where the time capsule was. Construction workers could never find it. One day, a demolition crew member cleaning up rubble saw something different, he said. Stidham took home the object, unscrewed the cap and confirmed it was the time capsule.

In it were letters, pictures and a box of Tic-Tacs. The time capsule will be revealed and shared at the school’s grand opening celebration.

A workers walks past the front of the new Fawcett Elementary School on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Tacoma.
A workers walks past the front of the new Fawcett Elementary School on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Tacoma.

In the new building, a public art piece that was salvaged from the former school will be reinstalled, and the engraved Fawcett Elementary sign will be mounted.

The new Fawcett Elementary is 55,000 square feet. The two-story school will have 20 classrooms, administrative spaces, a community room, a gymnasium that can be used as an auditorium and a cafeteria.

Fischer said Fawcett Elementary includes four components of good school design: daylight, air quality, good acoustics and air temperature.

Fischer said the design team put itself at the student scale, whether the student is 4-years-old or 11-years-old.

“As a design team, we challenged ourselves to imagine coming to this school at different ages, different ability levels,” she said. “Are you walking? Someone dropping you off? Are you 4 years old and this staircase is huge? You put yourself in those individual places, you’ll be able to create some moments where you can see yourself as that child.”

Under the staircase is a gathering area with a bench and windows to allow students to take a breather from hallway activity, Fischer said.

The classrooms, which are on the first and second floors, have electrical drops and WiFi internet. They will be audio-enhanced with microphones and speakers.

Upstairs is a library with views of the neighborhood and Mount Rainier.

The school will have safety upgrades, such as security systems, camera, access control and motion sensors.

The new Fawcett Elementary also has a separate drop-off for car riders and buses, which can accommodate three times as many buses.

The school will have two playgrounds, one for ages 4 to 6 and one for the older students. The playground designs incorporate movement and flight as an homage to Fawcett Elementary’s mascot, the falcon. Stidham said the students helped pick out the playground equipment.

There will be a covered area outside for ball sports and all-weather synthetic turf fields.

Workers use lifts as they install ceiling panels in the multi-purpose gymnasium at the new Fawcett Elementary School on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Tacoma.
Workers use lifts as they install ceiling panels in the multi-purpose gymnasium at the new Fawcett Elementary School on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Tacoma.

The gymnasium is near an entrance and is separate from the classroom portion of the school to be used for community events.

“Our goal is when we build these schools, we want them to be community assets,” said Stacy Page, Tacoma Public Schools facilities communication coordinator. “Not only is it a school functioning from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but then afterwards, we want the community to be able to come in and enjoy the school, use the playground, use the fields.”

Incorporating the community extends to the school’s construction. Page said when TPS asked voters to approve the school construction bond in 2020, the school system said it would bring back opportunities for the community through jobs, apprenticeships for students and partnering with small businesses.

Hensel Phelps Construction, the design-builder, aimed to have 30% local business participation with the Fawcett project.

Seth Stenerodden, project superintendent, said some of the craftspeople building the school went to the former Fawcett Elementary.

They included Fawcett students in the construction. Stidham said the contractor delivered one of the construction beams to McKinley Elementary that and the students signed their name, which is now part of the structure. They also hosted a construction day for students last summer. Students can see the day-to-day progress by a webcam of the construction site that is on display at McKinley Elementary.

Construction of the school will be completed in May. Street and off-site improvements will take place this spring.