Olympic Middle School students on Monday morning eyeballed with curiosity the 20-foot-long I-beam and the dozens of colored pens on it, all of them urging “write with me.”
None of the students seemed sure at first what to make of the object behind the gymnasium, but most conquered their doubts in short order, approached and signed.
“Come on over, Isabella, sign the beam, anywhere you want,” Principal Jason Hill urged one girl as she looked on from a comfortable distance.
The metal beam marks the first major construction milestone on the new 105,000-square-foot Olympic Middle School, visible today as a metal skeleton rising into the air 100 yards or so to the south. Hoist into place, the beam will complete the traditional ironworkers’ “topping-off ceremony,” which marks the building’s maximum height.
The new building, at 1825 K St. SE, Auburn, will replace today’s 92,000-square-foot edifice with a two-story, red brick-faced structure wired for 21st-century technology. Where the school is today, softballs, footballs and baseballs will soar while speedsters fly along a track.
It will have a contained courtyard and a stingy two entrances compared to the dozen or so now, so that when school is in session, security will be that much tighter. And with everything in one building, students won’t have to walk any longer along breezeways to get to class.
As for parking, the new school will accommodate 250 vehicles, a significant improvement from the present 78. And when parents drop off or pick up their kids, they won’t have to do that on the street anymore.
In summation, the new school will present more special education spaces, a bigger commons to accommodate performances, lunches, community meetings, and a sweet library for the students. The entire inside of the building will have wireless access, and PE teachers can take attendance right out there on the field.
Construction is on track to be ready for opening day of school in September 2019, Hill said.
The soon-to-be brick-and mortar school is a testament to the generosity of the Auburn community, which passed a $456 million bond package on Nov. 8, 2016 to replace six current schools. The money will build two new elementary schools, one on the south end, the other on the north end, both serving up to 650 students.
Olympic Middle School is only the first of the projects that the bond will fund. The others are.
• Dick Scobee Elementary, built in 1954
• Pioneer Elementary, built in 1959
• Chinook Elementary, built in 1963
•Terminal Park Elementary, built in 1945,
• Lea Hill Elementary, built in 1965.
While the new middle school rises, the present Olympic will serve as a middle school for its students for a year. Between 2019 and 2022, it will be an interim elementary school for the other schools being replaced.
Built in 1957 when Dwight Eisenhower had just begun his second term in the White House, Olympic Middle School today is old, cold, run down.
When rain falls, a waterfall splashes off the roof outside the library, and a body of water half the size of the school’s cafeteria pools in the center of campus.
Inside, students and teachers, staff and administrators suffer daily from a badly outdated heating, ventilation and insulation system, and outside, the paucity of parking is a continual source of aggravation for everybody.
“Our current school is a bit … outdated,” Hill said.
Absher Construction started work on its replacement in March.
In 2019 the district will bring students over from Dick Scobee Elementary School while it is being rebuilt, in 2020 students from Pioneer Elementary, in 2021 the children from Chinook, and in 2022 students from Terminal Park.
Then the old Olympic will come down and baseball and football fields, a track and more parking will be built.
Hill explained the importance of signing the beam.
“We wanted everybody to be part of this tradition of the iron workers coming in here and allowing us to sign one side while they signed the other side. It’s neat for our entire school to be part of it,” Hill said.
Rachel Knudson, project engineer with Absher Construction, the principal contractor, said the beam will be part of the new gymnasium.
“Where the topping-off ceremony usually involves the last beam, in this case, it’s a “lastish” beam because we wanted to give the kids enough room to sign it and stuff,” said Knudson.
Thirteen-year old-Genie Olivar’s name will be there, along with that of Avril Martinez, who decorated her title with little hearts; PE teacher Phillip Way sounded a cheer for his profession, writing: “Phillip Way PE rules.”
“I love the school and the community so much, and I think it’s just going to be an amazing opportunity not only to get a brand-new school for our kids, but more than that it’s a great opportunity for the community to have this beautiful school,” Hill said.