Elementary #15 – Auburn’s next addition to its schools family – rests nameless on an undeveloped, tree-buffered hill in the southeast corner of the city near the King-Pierce county line.
Crews have been busy digging, grading and flattening the freshly clear-cut site, where 16 of its 21 acres are to provide the foundation for a state-of-the-art elementary school timed to welcome 650 students come fall 2020.
The yet-to-be-named school will be the Auburn School District’s 15th elementary, its 23rd overall, and the first added to the district since Arthur Jacobsen Elementary on Lea Hill sounded its first class bell for students in 2007.
“And we need it,” school district Superintendent Alan Spicciati told a gathering of school, city and state leaders, families and community supporters at a groundbreaking ceremony last Saturday at the site, 5701 Kersey Way SE. “Auburn … is the fastest growing school district in King County. We have a community that is thriving. … This is a great place to raise a family, and people are choosing to put kids in our schools.
“When I think about the kids who will be in this school … they will work into the next century, when you think of the life of this building and the (students) who are going to be here long past that,” Spicciati said. “We really need to continue to invest in our kids and our community. … We’re thankful for the support we have.”
The new school is a product of a $456 million capital facilities bond – or the “big ask,” as school officials coined it – that voters approved in 2017. The measure will fund the rebuilding of six schools and the construction of two new ones. The measure, Auburn school officials said, was the largest of its kind to appear on a ballot in state history.
The elementary school’s estimated construction cost is $42 million, with the state matching $11 million in funds, according to the school district. The school’s main building will span about 73,000 square feet, with an additional 2,800 square feet reserved to foot a field house. The school is near the Edgeview at Lakeland Hills neighborhood, tucked into a part of Auburn that locals describe as the Hidden Valley or Bowman Creek area.
The new school comes at a good time. District student enrollment has increased by nearly 2,000 students in the last five years, Spicciati said. And since AJ opened 12 years ago, the district has added more than 1,500 elementary school kids, “which really could fill three (more) schools,” Spicciati said.
The one-story school with a sloping metal roof will offer 32 general and six specialty classrooms. The campus is to include: parking for approximately 300 vehicles and 15 buses; a synthetic turf playfield; hard surface and play-equipment areas; and secured, perimeter fencing.
To anticipate growth, the new school will accommodate 150 students with six future portable classrooms.
To address safety and traffic, road improvements will be made on Kersey Way Southeast. Project officials said the road will be widened and allow for a right-turn-only lane for dropoffs, replete with traffic signals.
Anne Gayman, who has been the principal at Evergreen Heights Elementary for 15 years, will lead the new school.
“It’s hard to leave, but I’m excited for this new adventure and thrilled to be able to start something new with the Auburn School District,” Gayman said. “I’m looking forward to meeting new staff and building a community. One of the things I’m really proud of at Evergreen Heights is the community that I’ve been able to build.”
School district officials said a committee will be formed to solicit names for the new school. A boundary committee, which will include community members, will work with the district to decide which neighborhoods will be zoned with the new school. The district will release details of both efforts later this year.
The new school, Spicciati said, will bring enrollment relief to swelling Ilalko, Lakeland Hills and Gildo Rey elementaries – each having more than 100 students beyond their capacities.
Some staff hirings for the new elementary school will be pulled from within the district “without taking the heart out of any school,” Spicciati said.
Spicciati lauded the city, school staff and the community for making the new school possible. Finding the right piece of land for the school was challenging.
Added Brock McNally, senior project manager for Absher Construction Company of Puyallup, builders of the new school: “It’s going to be a really pretty sight.”